Jack Nigro Audio Engineer/Producer
In basic terms, delay is an echo or series of echoes. Using delay in your mix is a very powerful tool that can achieve more than just making something sound like it’s in the Grand Canyon. Effective use of delays and understanding what you can achieve by using it is a skill that can very quickly take your mixes to a much more professional level.
Below I have detailed 3 very helpful ways in which delays can be utilized to enhance your mixes and achieve certain sonic goals! Again, as mentioned in my earlier blogs there are no rules. I have given certain guidelines that can be used but it is always best to experiment and hear things for you.
1 – Utilizing Slap Delay
What exactly is slap delay? Slap delay can be described as a quick reflective echo if you will. Slap delay can be used for all types of very important and useful purposes and I have found it very helpful.
On a vocal – One of the most common uses for slap delay is on a lead vocal to bring it forward in the mix. Not only does using slap delay on a vocal bring it forward in the mix, but also it can give the effect that the vocal is actually double tracked. This can be handy for a vocal that may need a bit more energy, presence or strength. By bringing your vocal forward in the mix, you are beginning to achieve a greater depth behind it in the mix. By using a stereo slap delay you are now also creating a certain amount of width also. These are two very important aspects of a great mix: width and depth.
On Guitars – One technique I particular love using is slap delays on hard panned guitars. Lets say for example you have a guitar panned hard left in your mix. Using an aux bus send, send your guitar track to a slap delay panned hard in the opposite direction, which in this case would be hard right. You now have the same guitar track being played through the right speaker at a certain time behind the left.
Now a few important points:
- Do not make the slap delay as loud as the original track
- Use a Low Pass filter to take out the top end, this helps make the delay sound more realistic
- KEEP THE SLAP DELAY VERY SHORT! If it’s to long it can become quite confusing to the listener. Unless you are going for something f**k** up, I personally find <80ms ideal.
The result: By doing this you are helping fill out your mix and placing the listener in a space. Short delays are a very important way in which our ears and brain can decipher what type of surrounding we are in. I guarantee if you were blindfolded and placed in a tiled bathroom and shouted, you could pick out the type of space you were in.
Using this on rock guitar tracks can help thicken out your mix and using this on any other type of guitar can help panned guitars not seem to lob sided on the ear and will add width and depth again to your mix!
When a guitar is panned in the centre, for example an acoustic guitar, sending the track to a stereo slap delay also helps fill out and widen the mix. Again, this helps the acoustic guitar feel like its being played in a certain space. Try playing with the timing of the delay on each side and the LPF cutoffs as it doesn’t have to be identical on each side!
2 – Send Delays Into Reverbs
This can be a really cool subtle technique to use in your mix. It can be used on virtually anything. Vocals in particular are where I will mainly use it, but it can work with any other instrumentation also. For the purpose of making this easy to understand however, I will use a vocal.
Lets say you have a lead vocal track being sent to a plate reverb, a slap delay and a longer delay via auxiliary bus sends. Send your long delay back into your vocal plate reverb bus via another send.
This can create a great level of depth and can really fill out your mix. It can also allow the vocal to sit better in the mix.
3 – Create multiple different sounding delays via parameters.
This technique follows on very well from the last technique in the sense that the effective use of delays can really alter the depth, width and fullness of your mix whilst also helping certain tracks ‘sit right’ in your mix.
There are many parameters that can change the effect and sound of your delay. Mainly I find I am always reaching to play around with the timing of the delay (1/4, 1/8, etc.), feedback (how many echoes) width, the accent of the delay (how aggressive is the accent of the delay) and the filters.
Now I could write a whole article on each of these parameters and cool sounds you can achieve, but there are no set guidelines at all for these parameters as it really depends on the context of the mix. Play around with these parameters and hear it for yourself!
What I want to discuss however is how to use these parameters to create different types of delays and how combining these different types can create some really special sounds and fx in your mix.
**Note not all delay plug ins or units have an accent parameter. However Soundtoys’ ‘Echo Boy’, arguably the leading delay plug in does.
Again a vocal is where I most commonly combine delays on the same track so I will use this for an example.
For my vocal track I will almost always have a send to a slap delay, at least one reverb and then one type of longer delay (and sending this back into the reverb on occasions!) However I will often combine maybe two types of delays and play around with the above-mentioned parameters.
Why combine different delays?
Personally I will use it for two reasons. The first reason is that my vocal is just not really sitting in well with the mix. If I am mixing a big pop track or synth heavy track where everything is quite reverberant and atmospheric (there is that word again), then sometimes it can be quite hard to get the vocal to really sit well with the track. It may sound to dry, or simply like it just does not belong with the rest of the track.
The second reason I will use it is to actually fill out my mix. Like in the second tip where I discussed sending my delays back into a reverb, it can really help fill out your mix and create a great sense of depth and space.
I personally like to combine different timed delays. I then play with the accent, cutoffs and feedback of each to create a certain effect or space. For example on my ¼ delay, I may have a very aggressive accent where the delay is very prominent, with little to no filter cut offs and only a fairly low feedback.
I may then combine this delay with an 1/8th delay with a very soft accent with a lot of the high frequencies cut off and a long feedback. This type of delay will begin to sound more like that of a long reverb than a delay possibly.
The combination of these two delays can do wonders in how your vocal may sit in your mix. Even if it is very subtle it can do amazing things to the overall sound of the mix also. In pop music in particular this is incredibly useful.
**Note** Sometimes using the delay plug ins High Pass Filter just a little bit can ensure your mix does not become ‘muddy’ all of the sudden.
Why stop there? Certain delay plug ins again like Echo Boy have width as an option. If not, simply place a stereo imaging plug in after the delay plug in you have selected and widen it. This can again create a great effect on your overall mix and really widen out the tails of the vocal lines creating some cool fx and ambience.
Delay is a very powerful tool that can completely transform your mix. However it is something that really needs to be experimented and played with and is completely subjective to each mix. There are never rules in audio, however there are always guidelines to help those that are new. With delay however more than a lot of other aspects of mixing, it really takes a lot of experimenting on your own behalf to understand the above techniques and tips.
I hope you have found this useful and insightful!