The delay effect is a really versatile tool and one of the most important tools to have in your Fx chain. Effects such as Chorus, Reverb, Flanger and many other plugins are all made from the Delay effects so there’s a lot of things you can do with it.
Delay is pretty simple to understand: a delay plugin records the input signal into a buffer then play it back after a certain period of time, depending on your delay time settings. This creates a repeat sound or decaying echo.
In an analog domain then you will use tape loops on a reel-to-reel magnetic recording system or digital sampling technology.
Delay can make your recording or programmed music sound larger and excessive amount of delay can push a sound back in a mix. It can also widen sounds in the stereo field.
50 to 100 milliseconds delays are well known for slap back double track effect which was used in the 1950s, this adds an artificial double. A delay that is in sync with the mix can disappear early or sound short but this adds a glue to the mix.
This is something that the reverb effect cannot achieve, delay can make your sounds work well together. When the delay is in sync it will create depth even if it’s not noticeable and it wont push the sound back in the mix.
Many delay effects come with a sync button but if yours doesn’t have it you can use a simple formula. Simply take 60 000 divide it by the tempo of the song and that should give you the quarter note delay time.
Example: 60 000 ÷ 90BPM = 666.7 milliseconds (1/4 note delay)
If that’s too long then you can get 8th notes by taking 666.7 milliseconds and dividing it by 2 which gives you 333.35 milliseconds (1/8 notes delay). To get 16th notes then you take 333.35ms and divide by 2 which gives you 166.675ms (1/16 note delay).
The feedback parameter is used to set the number of repeats. This can sometimes be called regeneration or repeats, depending on the plugin you’re using. Longer feedback times tend to muddy up the mix and ruin the clarity of a sound. Use a short feedback time to keep a sound punchy. Longer feedback is used if the music is slow or has less instrumentation.
To avoid the delay from sticking out in the mix then filter out the high frequencies on the return channel (delay signal). Just like reverb, delay is mostly used in a send or return channel not only to save CPU but to have full control.
Filtering out the high frequencies on the delay signal helps your sound blend well in the mix, if it sounds exactly like the original signal it might not work well. The filter will soften the transients and push the delayed signal at the back keeping the original signal front.
Equalizing the Delay
Another great way to make the delay signal blend in a mix is to use an equalizer to shape the sound. If you’re mixing a busy track with lots of sounds then eq will be your friend if you choose to apply a delay effect.
Bright delays work well if the music is sparse, but for mixes with lots of sounds then use dark delays with more body. Use the equalizer to remove low frequencies to avoid clutter in the low-end.
How you shape the eq depends on taste, what you might want to achieve or the material you’re working on. Be creative and make sure what you do benefits the entire mix not one sound.
Compression on Delay Effect
Most of the time you will find that the delay keeps making the loud peaks jump in certain parts of the mix. But when you try to lower the amount of delay the soft parts feel like they need more delay. In that case, you’ll need to add compression to the delay signal to keep its volume constant throughout the entire mix.
If you want to achieve a pumping sound delay then you can use side chain compression, this is also known as ducking delay. It’s a really cool effect if you don’t want the delay messing up the transients of the affected signal.
Multiband compression can be used if you just want to treat a certain frequency band. If drastic compression is still not taming out the loud peaks then go for a limiter. Compression will help you control the dynamics of the delay signal.
Adding Harmonics To Your Delay Effect
Adding saturation to a delay effect can give the sound warmth, more color and character. Most stock plugins that come built-in with a DAW don’t add color or character to a sound. That can make the delay dull and boring.
You need to add some harmonic excitement to make the sound rich. You can achieve this by adding tape saturation, overdrive or distortion. Subtle amount of saturation will work, you don’t need to make it obvious or change the tone unless if it sounds good.
Rock and Metal vocals are mostly processed with delay instead of reverb because reverb tends to muddy up the vocals. A delay works well by affecting the signal with pushing it at the back of the mix.
If you have a mix with lots of instruments or if the music is loud then use mono delays for lead vocals, especially in the verse. For the chorus part, add a reverb to the mono delay. This will make the delay wide and create contrast. To emphasize it, simply add an eq with M/S processing to boost the sides in the high frequency range of the reverb signal.
You can use a stereo delay for your backing vocals to differentiate them from the lead and push them back in the mix to keep the lead upfront. If the music you’re working on doesn’t have a lot of sounds then you can use stereo delays with more feedback and long delay time.
If a reverb is making any of your instruments to sound distant, muddy or washy then use a delay to add the correct amount of depth you need without ruining the sound.
In many times, one delay in a return channel can work for all the sounds in your mix. Sometimes you’ll have to create different delay returns with different settings. Just make sure you use an equalizer and saturation to help the delay signal blend well in the mix.
Delay can be used in a lot of ways and for many sounds. The only time I don’t use it, is when I’m mixing drums. I might use it only on a Hi-Hat, Shaker, Tambourine, Cymbal and Percussion instruments.
If you want something that sounds different or unusual then you can try the reverse delay effect. If done correctly then the tail of the delay should be the attack. That means you’ll hear the delay signal before you hear the original signal.
I assume you already know how to do reverse processing, but if you need help then leave a comment below. Finally, be creative, take these ideas and come up with something Dope. Hope you found this blog post useful and you’ll use the delay effect in your production more creatively instead of going for a presets.