Mixing using delay effects is a nice way to add ambience, texture, width and excitement to certain elements in a mix. While it may not seem obvious, delay can be a great substitute for washy reverbs that flood the mix and make everything sound a little too undefined.
Delay can be used in many different ways to accommodate the song’s needs – engineers from Violet Microphones share a few ideas to help you utilize this effect more creatively.
Adding width to mono sources
There are many ways to spread out mono sources in a mix, like, for example, guitar solos, vocals and synth leads – one of which is feeding or sending the source into a stereo delay and setting up each side of the delay a little differently.
A soaring guitar solo might get too drenched and washy if you are using a reverb but set up a stereo delay with one side set to ¼ and the other set to ¼ dotted, and you will get a nice stereo effect that plays out very musically, grooving with itself and the tempo of the song, while preserving the original source’s clarity. This works wonders on vocals as well, if set up in a subtle way.
Different delay times will affect the feel greatly, so be sure to experiment. Very short times will create a more “roomy” slap-back effect, while longer times will sound more “dreamy” and “space like”.
Adding warmth to a track
Filtering the delay effect can be a nice way to add a little warmth to the sound – cut off the lows and highs of the delay tail and you will be left with a warm lo-fi effect that can help thicken up a vocal track or a guitar lead.
Filtered delays also tend to be very musical and not obtrusive, as they don’t mask the original source. Use a long feedback and low mix ratios for a rich, dark ambience.
If an even warmer tone is necessary, try adding a reverb to the delay tails – it will smear the tails even more and create an extra layer of depth.
This is a long-time audience favorite – delay throws that leave a certain phrase hanging on a slightly fading repeat can really emphasize a word or perhaps help to smooth out a transition between radically different parts.
To do this you need to set up a send from the track you wish to “throw” into the effect and automate the send to work only on the necessary parts or words. It is also a good idea to filter the delay tail to make the repeats slightly softer. Listeners love these kinds of effects, especially when timed just right.
This technique also can be used to create an unusual ending to a song – make an element wash out at the end of the song for however you want.
This effect can also help to salvage guitar parts that don’t sustain long enough.
Sometimes while mixing you might encounter a situation where you wish you had more vocal tracks to work with to create additional harmonies or to emphasize a part. This is a case where you could use a delay that is shifted up or down an octave to add extra texture and color to the vocal without affecting the direct track. To do this simply place a pitch shifter plugin before the delay on an FX send track.
To make these kind of delay sends even more interesting, try using a modulation effect in combination with pitch shifting – choruses, flangers and phasers will work excellent for this.
Print the effects for flexibility
There are infinitely more things you can do to a delay effect once it’s not processed in real time in an invisible FX send track. Once you have printed your delay effects, you can cut them up, reverse them or control them any other way you like. A very interesting effect can be achieved by pitch shifting a vocal delay to emulate a stopping tape, where the delay track slows down and drops in pitch until it comes to a complete halt.
A ghostly vocal effect can be achieved by printing a delay (or even a dry vocal) track to a separate audio file, then reversing it, processing it with a long reverb, then printing and reversing it again. What you’ll end up with is a heavily processed track that has all the lyrics playing correctly with very washy and spooky reverse reverb tails leading into each word. Blend this in under the clean vocals to achieve an unnatural ambience that just might work for that situation where nothing really fits together.
Mix it up, be safe
Many pop and rock mixers use different vocal delays for different parts of the song. A verse can be made to feel a little more focused and tight by using a more conservative delay effect with shorter times, while a chorus might have a wider and more lush delay that makes the chorus “pop” (pun intended) and bloom, creating a nice dynamic contrast between the parts.
More emotional parts in aggressive rock music can benefit from a very short and present delay with a slap-back effect to create that hysterical “out of breath” feel. This can also be used nicely on spoken word parts to make them feel like they were recorded through an airport announcement speaker.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are no rules!
Keep experimenting and you will come up more creative delay effects like these in no time. Be mindful of the song though – while effects are very necessary for that “pro” sound, too much of a good thing is actually bad and can sound a little too obvious and distasteful. Keep everything in balance and your delays will sound great!
— Note from the editor:
Thanks Edvīns Rakickis for another great article. Make sure to check his other articles on mixing, recording vocals, DAW stock plugins.
And if you’re in the market for a new delay plugin for your DAW, make sure to check Plugin Boutique where you will find a large collection of product from industry-leading developers, including FabFilter, D16 Group, Softube, Rob Papen, and many more.