Ok, this time a few quick tips to try out…
You probably all know about the delay-> filter technique to make the repeats darker and sink back into the mix. It’s so common that most delays have a built in lowpass filter to gently push the repeats into the background. But there’s a lot more you can do with a delay. If you haven’t already, try out the following techniques in your next project:
- Delay -> reverb. Set up a send channel with a delay (100% wet, of course) followed by a reverb. The goal here is to slightly diffuse or blur the repeats, so aim for a short reverb without much sense of space. A plate or other special effect reverb (such as ‘reverse’ reverb algorithms) will probably give you the best results. This will work especially nicely if the main reverb in your mix is particularly long and deep. The contrast will make the short reverb sound more like a subtle diffusion than part of the background ambience.
- Double delay. Use a delay with two taps or set up a send channel with a 100% wet delay followed by a 50% wet delay. Synchronise both delays to the project tempo, but make one short (e.g. 1/8th or shorter) and one long (e.g. dotted 1/4 or longer). If the first delay is the shorter one, it will add depth and complexity to the dry sound, while the longer delay provides a cleaner echo. On the other hand, if the first delay is the longer one, the shorter delay will be closer to the echo than the dry sound, making the echo more complex (and keeping the dry sound cleaner by comparison).
- Delay -> 100% wet chorus. If your delay doesn’t have any modulation built in, you can use a 100% wet chorus to add a little instability and subtle pitch variation to the repeats. Depending on the features available in your chorus, you can also use it to increase the stereo width of the repeats as well. Increasing the stereo width in this way is another way of adding some subtle diffusion to the delays to help them sit further back in the mix. If the delay is followed by the chorus (delay->chorus), each repeat will sound slightly different as it fades away. If the chorus is followed by the delay, however (chorus->delay), the amount of modulation will be the same but the repeats won’t change as they fade away. It’s worth trying both to see which approach will work best in your song.
- Insert delay -> compressor. You might have heard of ‘ducking’ delays – these are delays that automatically turn down the volume of the repeats when the original sound is playing and turn the repeats when the original sound has stopped. This is particularly useful with vocals and other load melodies – the repeats don’t interfere with the lyrical or melodic content but add depth and fullness at the end of (or in between) phrases. Usually this is achieved with a delay that has a built-in compressor. The compressor processes the wet output of the delay, but its sidechain is fed with the original dry sound. If your favourite delay doesn’t have this feature, however, you can still produce a similar effect by using the delay as an insert effect (not on a send channel) and following it with a compressor. Make sure the wet level of the delay is quite low, and the compressor has a low threshold, medium ratio and medium-long release. You’ll also have to be careful that the compressor doesn’t adversely affect the dynamics of the original sound too much – you might need to back off any track compressors earlier in the signal chain.
- Automate feedback amount. This is fun – set the feedback amount pretty low (fewer repeats), but automate the feedback to 100% for some sections of the song. For those sections, the repeats will stay at the same level (until the feedback level is brought back down again) instead of naturally decaying away. This is particularly effective at the end of phrases or leading into section changes. For an even more dramatic effect, use a delay that allows its feedback to be set above 100%. This will cause the repeats to get louder (instead of staying at the same level or decaying away). If the delay has a saturation stage, the repeats will also get more overdriven and distorted as they get louder. Don’t keep this going for too long, but for short periods it’s great for buildups and leading into section changes.