CTA Classroom: Using Audio Delay

Most audio effects processors include a simple delay. Often, that effect gets overlooked because we typically reach for the plates, halls and other reverbs first. However, if you have the capability, adding some delay can create some very cool effects. 

For this post, I will contain the suggestions to vocals only. Guitarists often add tap delays themselves, and putting some tap delay on drums can be really cool (when done well). But those will remain out of scope for the time being (play with those on your own).

There are tons of uses for delay; I will focus on two today--thickening and echo. 

Fatten it Up

Sometimes getting a vocal to sit right in the mix can be tough. Turning it up doesn’t always help, and after you’ve applied some compression, EQ and perhaps even parallel compression, you may still want to round out the vocal sound a bit. 

This is quickly becoming a "go-to" vocal effect for me right now.In those cases, I will often turn to some delay. I started doing this more after listening to a Dave Pensado podcast when he talked about using a roughly 100 msec delay on a lot of his vocals. As he described it, the delay could be anywhere between 96-104 msec; whatever works for the song. For some reason, 102 often sounds really good.

This short delay has two audible effects. First, it makes it easier to hear the vocal (a very neat psycho-acoustical trick). Second, it can really round out a reverb sound. I typically combine the short delay with a reverb (I’m back to plates at the moment) and blend the two effects together into one. 

The delays on the SD8 have the ability to do feedback, which creates that “echo loop” sound, but I normally don’t use it. I like to keep it simple (and my room has enough flutter echo anyway). 

Audible Echo

Sometimes, certain songs can benefit from an audible echo. For example, I really like using a quarter note tapped delay in Your Great Name on the chorus to create an effect on the repeats of “Jesus.” 

I use this effect sparingly as it’s really easy to overdo. But having the words echo back after you sing them is a great way to reinforce what you’re singing. 

This delay equates to 3 eighth notes at 71 bpm in 4/4 time.

To set the delay times, you can either use a bpm to msec calculator (or perhaps your effects unit or plug-in works in bpm), or tap it using the tap button. Tap buttons will calculate the time between taps and set the delay to that. You simply tap on 1 & 3, or 1,2,3 & 4 or just on 1. Sometimes tapping on odd beats works too. Tapping every three beats on a 6/8 song often produce a cool effect. 

I usually tap the faceplate when I’m not tapping the button to maintain proper timing. Typically it takes one or two measures to get it dialed in. 

Cautions

Of course, like any effect, it’s easy to over do it. When using a thickening effect, be careful not to push it too far forward in the mix. You can really muddle up the mix doing that.

Same goes for the echo effect. It should be really subtle, and you should definitely not use it on every song in the set. Often times, I’ll use it only on the chorus, or I’ll change the delay time to very short during the verse and longer during the chorus. 

Listen to the song, play with it and see what sounds good. Just be cautious of the effect being noticeable. It should enhance the overall song, not become a focal point. Start with the levels really low and sneak it up to the point where you just hear it. Then stop. 

Also, don’t try to run more than one vocal through a delay unit at once. People almost never sing in perfect sync, so when you start getting a little drift, and those voices get delayed, it can really mess with clarity. Stick to a single delay line per vocal; I only use this effect on the worship leader.

Bonus Tip

On certain songs, it sounds really cool to run a high and low pass filter on the effect return. You’ll hear this in some popular music. We’ll do this in the delay itself on the SD8 because we can, but you can easily do it on the return channel. Because the sound will be very different from the original vocal sound, it’s more apparent so really watch the level. But it can be pretty sweet when you get it right.

What’s your favorite use of some delay as an effect?

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