Posts Tagged ‘ Delay ’

Interesting things to do with delay

Ok, this time a few quick tips to try out…

You probably all know about the delay-> filter technique to make the repeats darker and sink back into the mix. It’s so common that most delays have a built in lowpass filter to gently push the repeats into the background. But there’s a lot more you can do with a delay. If you haven’t already, try out the following techniques in your next project:

  • Delay -> reverb. Set up a send channel with a delay (100% wet, of course) followed by a reverb. The goal here is to slightly diffuse or blur the repeats, so aim for a short reverb without much sense of space. A plate or other special effect reverb (such as ‘reverse’ reverb algorithms) will probably give you the best results. This will work especially nicely if the main reverb in your mix is particularly long and deep. The contrast will make the short reverb sound more like a subtle diffusion than part of the background ambience.
  • Double delay. Use a delay with two taps or set up a send channel with a 100% wet delay followed by a 50% wet delay. Synchronise both delays to the project tempo, but make one short (e.g. 1/8th or shorter) and one long (e.g. dotted 1/4 or longer). If the first delay is the shorter one, it will add depth and complexity to the dry sound, while the longer delay provides a cleaner echo. On the other hand, if the first delay is the longer one, the shorter delay will be closer to the echo than the dry sound, making the echo more complex (and keeping the dry sound cleaner by comparison).
  • Delay -> 100% wet chorus. If your delay doesn’t have any modulation built in, you can use a 100% wet chorus to add a little instability and subtle pitch variation to the repeats. Depending on the features available in your chorus, you can also use it to increase the stereo width of the repeats as well. Increasing the stereo width in this way is another way of adding some subtle diffusion to the delays to help them sit further back in the mix. If the delay is followed by the chorus (delay->chorus), each repeat will sound slightly different as it fades away. If the chorus is followed by the delay, however (chorus->delay), the amount of modulation will be the same but the repeats won’t change as they fade away. It’s worth trying both to see which approach will work best in your song.
  • Insert delay -> compressor. You might have heard of ‘ducking’ delays – these are delays that automatically turn down the volume of the repeats when the original sound is playing and turn the repeats when the original sound has stopped. This is particularly useful with vocals and other load melodies – the repeats don’t interfere with the lyrical or melodic content but add depth and fullness at the end of (or in between) phrases. Usually this is achieved with a delay that has a built-in compressor. The compressor processes the wet output of the delay, but its sidechain is fed with the original dry sound. If your favourite delay doesn’t have this feature, however, you can still produce a similar effect by using the delay as an insert effect (not on a send channel) and following it with a compressor. Make sure the wet level of the delay is quite low, and the compressor has a low threshold, medium ratio and medium-long release. You’ll also have to be careful that the compressor doesn’t adversely affect the dynamics of the original sound too much – you might need to back off any track compressors earlier in the signal chain.
  • Automate feedback amount. This is fun – set the feedback amount pretty low (fewer repeats), but automate the feedback to 100% for some sections of the song. For those sections, the repeats will stay at the same level (until the feedback level is brought back down again) instead of naturally decaying away. This is particularly effective at the end of phrases or leading into section changes. For an even more dramatic effect, use a delay that allows its feedback to be set above¬†100%. This will cause the repeats to get louder¬†(instead of staying at the same level or decaying away). If the delay has a saturation stage, the repeats will also get more overdriven and distorted as they get louder. Don’t keep this going for too long, but for short periods it’s great for buildups and leading into section changes.


Make your synths bigger!

Everyone wants bigger synths, don’t they? What’s the secret? Is there some miraculous plugin or hardware device that the Big Names know about (and keep secret from all the anonymous internet jerks)? Or maybe it’s a special combination of side-chained multiband mid/side compression alongside fully parametric dynamic EQ and three different limiters is series (in the right order!).

Actually, it’s quite simple. You probably already know how to do this. Most of the time, all it takes is three things:

  • Wide frequency range. This is just what it sounds like – prominent highs and lows. Depending on your mix, you might not be able to extend the highs or lows as far as you’d like, especially if you’re cutting off the top end with a lowpass filter or your bottom end is competing with your kick and bass. Still, keep this principal in mind and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Unison. What’s bigger than one synth voice? Many synth voices. This technique is hardly new – orchestras often have ten or twenty violins playing the same part and choirs achieve a huge sound through many voices. Remember that the more voices you add, the less definition will be present in the sound. As always, you will need to find a balance, and it will depend on the part and the mix.
  • Spacious reverb/delay. Don’t think ‘wet’ – think long (pre)delay time, wide stereo image, high diffusion. This is not to make the sound ‘reverberant’, but to give it a dramatic sense of space. Of course, the specifics will depend on the part and the mix. Sometimes delays can be useful even in a reverb-heavy delay-light mix – it’ll add ambience and space with more definition.

But really, take a step back.


What are you doing?

Be careful that you’re not just making things messy. Big synth sounds often don’t need much more than wide frequency range (prominent highs and lows), unison, and spacious reverb/delay.

In fact, your synths are probably big enough already. The real questions is – what are you really trying to achieve? Are you trying to beef up your synths to compensate for something else (no, not that something else!)? Or are you avoiding having to address other issues? Are you distracting yourself from the bigger problems in your track?

Bigger synths will not make your music amazing.

They might be an essential ingredient in expressing yourself musically, but what are you expressing? Does it even matter? Are you copying your idols, or are you creating something uniquely you? What are you expressing that no-one else has expressed in that way?

What is your contribution?


Alternatives to reverb

Reverb adds two properties to sounds – diffusion and depth. While there are many ways of changing the balance between diffusion and depth, there are times when a more extreme approach is required. Reverb may not be the best solution if a sound needs a lot of diffusion but very little depth, or a lot of depth but very little diffusion.

More diffusion, less depth

Diffusion is a way of blurring a sound, reducing its sharpness or distinction. A sound may need to be diffused if it needs to be pushed to the background or to fit it into a mix that is generally quite diffuse. This might need to be done in a way that doesn’t add depth if the background of the mix requires a lot of clarity or if the mix is meant to be very shallow.

In these situations, processes such as chorus, microshifting, slap delay or even true doubletracking can be appropriate.

  • Chorus diffuses the sound by adding a copy with constantly-changing pitch and timing. This can be appropriate if the sound will benefit from the added movement and the constantly-changing pitch is not distracting.
  • For situations when the movement or pitch modulation are not appropriate, microshifting might be a better solution. This is commonly implemented as a pitch shift of a few cents down on one side of the stereo space and a pitch shift of a few cents up on the other side of the stereo space. This can give a very big sound that stretches across the stereo space, but doesn’t have the modulated sound that chorus adds, and doesn’t have the added depth or tail that reverb adds.
  • Slap delay is shorthand for any quick delay with a delay time roughly between 30ms and 150ms. The delay time should be determined by the nature of the sound – the delay time and level should be set so that the delayed sound blends smoothly with the original sound. Slap delay can be useful when a sound needs less diffusion and more depth than chorus or microshifting, but not as much depth as a reverb might add.
  • True doubletracking is a process of using two ¬†different takes of the same part being played simultaneously. The natural, human variations between the two takes will make them slightly different – different enough to create a different sound when both takes are combined. This is a popular technique for guitars and vocals because it can be used to create a very big sound while still sounding much more natural than applying chorus or microshifting.

Depth, no diffusion

Depth is a sense of distance – particularly a distance between the foreground and background of the mix. A shallow mix will have very little distance between the foreground and background, a deep mix will have a lot of distance between the foreground and background. Usually sounds are pushed to the background by adding both depth and diffusion, but in some cases it is useful to add depth without diffusion. A mix might need to be very deep, but also very sharp and clear (which would require diffusion to be minimised). In other cases,a mix might already be quite diffuse, and depth has to be created by using more obvious means (because regular reverb would be lost in the general diffusion of the mix).

In these situations, delay is often the most appropriate tool. Longer delays (>150ms) should work best. When tuning a delay for depth, rather than rhythmic complexity, it’s often worthwhile tuning it by ear instead of snapping to the song’s tempo. The sense of depth will come from hearing the echos between the notes. This may be difficult if a tempo delay is causing the echos to be perfectly timed to sound underneath foreground elements (so that the background echos are masked by the foreground elements). Making the delay more audible by tuning it in between tempo times will also allow the delay to be at a lower volume. This will enhance the sense of depth in the mix.