Delay: 5 Tips for Adding Excitement to Your Mixes | Soundways

Why Use Delay?

Delay is one of the most commonly used effects processors.  Delay works by simply sending an audio signal to a recording medium then repeating it over a determined length of time. Throughout the history of delay, recording enthusiasts have used various methods to achieve this effect.

During the 1950's engineers began to create delays by using multiple tape machines.  One machine would record the musicians playing, and another machine would delay the signal by a few milliseconds.  The combination of these two signals would then be printed to a third tape machine.  This created a "slapback" type of delay and added percieved depth to recordings.  Memphis' own Sam Phillips was a pioneering record producer who used this technique to great effect.  According to Phillips, using slapback delay could make "2 or 3 musicians sound like an 8 piece band!"  This technique can be heard on much of Phillip's work with Elvis Presley including the track "Thats Alright Mama."

Throughout the 1950's engineers began to develop more convenient ways of creating delay effects.  Products like the Echosonic, Watkins Copycat, and Maestro Echoplex would allow engineers to easily use this effect on command.  Throughout the 60's and 70's musicians continued to develop creative ways of using delay.  Dub music pioneers, Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby used tape delays as a vital part of their sound.  Modern digital delay pedals began to be introduced in the 1980's.  The Boss DD-2 was the first of its kind and provided guitar players with a compact, convenient way of acheiving this popular effect.

Today, delay is used in music productions of all kinds.  Delay can add a sense of depth and space to a track.  Often guitar players will use delay pedals to create the illusion of long sustaining notes.  This can help add emotion to a rock guitar solo.  Delay is often used to add a sense of interest to a vocal.  With a short repeat time and little feedback, delay can create the sense of early reflections.  This will add a sense of realism and cause a vocal sit perfectly on top of a mix.

Here are some tips for using delay to add excitement to a recording.  

Tip #1:  Choose a Delay Type

Different delay types will produce various sonic characteristics.  It is important to choose the appropriate type of delay for the given source.  Modern digital delays often sound very pristine and cause little sonic degradation.  Tape delays produce subtle harmonics and high frequency filtering.  This may be pleasing when attempting to add character to a track.  Delays can also be used to create chorusing or flanging type effects.  

Each delay type will have its own unique sound.  Try out some different delays and find which one you like best. 

Tip #2:  Adjust Parameters

Each manufacturer may present the user with slightly different parameters.  However, there are some commonalities between most delay processors.

Common Parameters:

Wet/Dry:  Determines the relative levels of processed and unprocessed signal.  

Delay Time:  This allows users to adjust the length of time between the original and delayed signals.  

Feedback:  This determines the number of times the delayed signal is repeated.

Depth:  This determines the amount of modulation. 

Rate:  This determines the rate of modulation.

Adjust these parameters until you find a sound that you like.  If your track is recorded to a click, you may want to sync the delay time to the tempo.  For live recordings, delay times may need to be automated with the track.  

For a more atmospheric sound, try raising the feedback.  Cranking the feedback knob will cause tape delays to become a feedback loop, producing a guitar amp-like sound.  This can be used creatively for great effect.  

Try using some modulation if you are looking for a strange, spacey sound.  Adjust the depth and rate until you have achieved a pleasant sonic character.

Tip #3:  Adjust Relative Levels


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Once you have set up your delay processing, it is time to adjust the relative levels between wet and dry signals.  Use the Core Focus Workflow to do this in the most refined way.  Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus.  Reveal features a set of listening filters which allow engineers to focus on the audio core.  The core is the frequency range which the human ear finds most sensitive, 2kHz - 5kHz.  Achieving balance in this range is critical in order for a mix to translate properly across all speaker systems.  

When adjusting relative levels, turn on Reveal's Critical Listening mode.  Listen to your dry and processed signal.  You may find that the processed signal is overpowering the original.  If this is not desired, adjust the level of the processed signal.  Repeat this process until the appropriate balance is achieved.  

Tip #4:  Use EQ

You may find that adjusting level alone is not enough to provide clarity to the unprocessed signal.  If that is the case, try using some EQ.  Place your delay on an aux send and route your unprocessed signal.  Now insert an EQ on the delay bus.  If you find that the processed signal is taking up too much space, use some EQ.  Try cutting some frequencies between 2kHz - 5kHz.  This will create sonic space and allow the original signal to cut through the mix.  

Tip #5:  Use Sidechain Compression

Sidechain compression is another technique that can be used to free up space in a mix.  Often I will use a heavy amount of delay on the lead vocal or lead guitar.  This can add a nice sense of depth to a recording.  However, things can become easily cluttered when using long delay times, or lots of feedback.  If you feel that the mix is become crowded, try using sidechain compression.  

Insert a compressor on your delay send.  Route the dry signal to the key input on your compressor and enable this function.  This will cause the level of the delayed signal to rise only when the original track become silent.  Using this technique on multiple instruments in a recording will cause the track to become more or less reverberant with dynamic changes.  This can be a great way to add some subtle emotional content to a mix.  

Using these tips you will be able to acheive greater depth in mixes and craft brilliant delays.