Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Ever-Versatile Delay

It's easy to become a bit of a pack-rat for plug-ins these days. There's so much cool free stuff to try, that if you're not careful, you'll end up wasting an entire day auditioning plug-ins to find the "perfect" effect for your track. That's okay now and then, but there really is a point of diminishing returns in regards to productivity in the long run. So I try not to go overboard with buying and downloading every cool thing that comes out. Instead, I try to get more mileage out of the effects I already have. You'd be surprised how many different uses you can find for just about any effect, even the lowly delay, for example. Here are just a few ways you can make use of delay effects:

• Add Complexity to Your Synth, Guitar, or Rhythm Parts
The most obvious use for delay is to add interest and rhythmic motion to a part. If your delay allows you to enter dotted note values, try setting it to sync to dotted 1/8th notes. Play a simple, synth part of straight, percussive 8th notes and listen to how much more complex it sounds. Try using delay on some things you might not think to ordinarily, such as your drum buss.

• Exaggerate the Stereo Sound of a Part
If you have a delay that allows you to adjust the delay rate down to the sample level (like Logic's built-in Sample Delay), offset one side between and 300-1000 samples from the other. You should notice the part sounds significantly "wider". This sounds brilliant on strings and pads, and can really add some sparkle to vocals. It also can help a part that's getting lost in the mix to stand out.

• Create Resonating, Metallic Effects
On most delays effects, if you set the delay time to a very short value (50ms and below), and turn the delay feedback up (not TOO high, though or your ears are going to be REALLY sad), you can create "robotic" type effects with an old school vibe. You can use it to recreate the fake vocoder sound on lots of old school rap and electro tracks if you send speech through it, and if you mix the effect as a send effect, it can add a harsh, metallic sheen to snare drum or other percussion tracks. If you play around with this effect, you'll notice that you can "tune" the effect by tweaking the delay time. If you're so inclined, you can try automating the delay time to follow the chord progression of your song. Most delays will glitch a bit when you try to do this in real time, so the best option is to render the track to audio and edit out the glitches by repeating an earlier region.

• Wash It
One thing ambient masters like Brian Eno or Robert Fripp discovered early on was how adept delay was for creating, giant sounding washes of sound. Try setting your feedback level fairly high, set your delay time to 1/4 notes or longer and play some chords with a lush pad sound and listen to how much thicker it sounds. Better yet, try setting up 3 or more delay effects in series, each with it's own delay time and feedback levels. This sounds great with stereo "ping-pong" delays. Even try setting up other effects before or after the delays. One of my favorite effects in Native Instruments' Guitar Rig is created by splitting up the signal and feeding it through delays, some of which have been pitch-shifter upwards. Try using a tape delay that degrades the signal with each repeat to dirty up your track and make it sound more organic. Also, try setting a reverb after your delay to create even more atmosphere. This way, you're applying reverb to each repeat of the delay in addition to the main sound itself.

• Bait and Switch
One cool effect that can add interest to a track is to record a part twice, using different sounds each time. Leave the "main" track dry, and then send the second track completely through a delay effect with the wet level set to 100% and the dry level all the way down. Mixed properly, the effect is of the second track being the echo to the main track, but with the different timbre of the second track, it can sound a lot more interesting. Try it with snare and percussion parts, too.

So what are your favorite ways of using delay? Join the conversation in the comments!


Hannes Pasqualini said...

I like tape style the kind of delays, or those which are capable of modulating pitch, cutoff and other parameters of the delayed sound, you can really create some amazing effects with it. It's one of the tings I really like in Filtatron, just plug in an old toy keyboard, crank up the feedback and mix, and start hitting the keys. the Effect is simple but powerful and get's you some really hypnotic sound washes.
Other things I like to with a delay is to transform ordinary sounds (like loops from field recordings) into percussive textures... pretty effective as well!

Anonymous said...

Sound advice. Thank you!!

Darren_Halm said...

Hells yes! Delay is the sonic swiss army knife!

Joël Bisson said...

I love my MS-2000 because of it's on-board delay which I use to change the bass sounds into robotic metallic bass sounds like mentioned in this post, I love to use Boss Delay Pedals for Guitars on Drums and Synths as well as about anything but the built-in delay in FL Studio is nice also and is what I use in there, I love to have delay layered with chorus on some bits and set so that a sound is full in the mix, it's a great tool, thanks for the post!

-sihiL said...

Freaky sounds can be made on some delays by tweaking the delay time on the fly, makes for some really good FSU-noise. Anything can be used for the input really. I've even managed to make some rhythmic loops this way.

I've also got a wonderfully spacious, long release synth sound that's only got a really short decay and no release on the amp envelope. I've made the release entirely from a very short delay with a really high feedback, sound awesome when smeared with reverb.

TJ Porter said...

I've got an old Boss DM-3 analogue pedal that still, after 25 years, continues to amaze me.