Delays keep our production from sounding boring. Delays create an echoing effect according to a
set delay time and feedback control. The delay time determines the space between the repetitions
of our signal in the echo and the feedback controls how long these repetitions last. In this article, we will look at a few tips with delays to create detail and liveliness in your track.
1. Sidechaining the Delay
Delays like reverbs can easily create overlap among two melodic phrases in a performance. If this overlap is not intentional then it might create dissonance or ruin the clarity of the phrase. A simple compressor side-chained to our main lead inserted after the delay can resolve this problem. In this case, the delay will duck under the main lead when notes are being played and the delay level will swell up when there is a silence in the playing. We can sculpt the swell of our delay using the release of the compressor.
In the image above, we are using the sidechain compressor to make the main bell melody clearer and then adding a slow-release so the delay has almost a fade-in effect.
Compressing the Delay
There might be a situation where we are trying to use a delay to add some subtle detail to our sound. These details can get easily lost in a busy mix. Using a compressor on our delay helps us to add more presence to the delay tail by lowering the threshold and adjusting the ratio as required. Always remember to use your ears and not overdo the fine-tuning. Another situation that comes to mind is when we have a delay with high feedback but the decay ends a few beats before the next section begins. You can use a compressor here to slightly increase the amplitude of your delay tail so that we can hear it sustain to the next section in the mix.
In the image above we are compressing the delay tail of some glitchy blips and bloops to make it more present in the mix, especially in the busier sections.
3. Filtering the Delay
This tip will hold for most delays and reverbs. When we feed the full harmonic spectrum of our sound into the delay input, a lot of problematic frequencies that were previously quite in the mix might get boosted. If we are applying a delay on our drum loop to create an interesting groove, then you should use a highpass filter pre-delay so that all the lows are prevented from going into our delay. This will keep our track clean and not throw off the groove because of the kick being affected by the delay. Similarly, we might want to tone sculpt our delay tail so that it stands out from the original sound in the mix. In that case, an EQ inserted post delay can help us achieve our goal. You can also use the internal pre/post EQ in your delay plugin, provided it has that feature.
In the image above we are sending a drum loop to delay inserted in a return track. As you can see we are using a highpass filter pre-delay to remove all the low and mid information being affected by the delay. Then we are also using a modulated bandpass filter provided in our delay to further shape our sound. This setup is being used to create subtle ghost notes to enhance the groove of our drum loop.
4. Using Multiple Delays
Delays can be timed according to a note duration or a frequency. Most mixes employ a few delays with different delay timings. This is done because a 1/4 note delay might sound good on our synths but it might create some unclear sounding overlaps on our vocals because of the way the phrases have been composed. Perhaps a 1/8 note delay would sound much better on the vocal. In this situation, we will require two separate delays, one with a 1/4 note setting and the other with 1/8 settings. Another perspective can be using two delay timings on the same sound to create interesting patterns. We can have one delay timed at 1/4 note while the other at 1/6 which is a triplet note duration to create an interesting polyrhythmic groove (shown in the image below).
5. Creating Stereo Width with Delays
Delays can be used to create a stereo effect. If we are using multiple delays, we can pan these delays in various ways to add width to our sound. The simpler technique is to use a traditional delay plugin and have the left delay and the right delay set to trigger at different note durations. Another variation of this technique is to use the same delay timing in both left and right but offset them from each other by different values (both variations are represented in the image below).
Another technique for creating a stereo width effect with our delays is to use two similar-sounding delays and pan them left and right. You can achieve this by using two return tracks, hard-panned left, and right or an audio effect rack with a delay in each chain. Then we can pan one chain hard left and the other hard right.
One more simple technique for creating stereo width with our delay is simply using a ping pong delay. In a ping pong delay, the first repetition will occur in the left channel and the next repetition on the right.
6. Adding Delay Throws
Delays are often used to fill up empty spaces in a mix. One common technique for filling up space is a delay throw. We do this effect by inserting a delay in a return track and then automating the level of our delay send to emphasize the last note or word in performance perhaps in a pre-chorus leading up to the chorus. This will create a smooth delay swell and the word on which we raised the send level will ring out in the mix, reinforcing the meaning and filling up some empty space at the same time. You can use automation curves to really sculpt the volume envelope of your throw.
7. Using a Reverb on the Delay
Sometimes the repeats created by our delay can sound dry or lack a sense of space. Using a reverb in conjunction with our delay can be very useful here. The reverb adds ambiance to our delay repetitions and puts them in the same spatial environment as our original sound provided we are using the same reverb for both. You can directly insert a reverb plugin after your delay or you can also send the signal from the delay return to a reverb return by enabling the delay return to send control (you will have to enable it first by right-clicking in Ableton).