With so many effects to choose from one of the most difficult choices to make in the studio is not what to use, but when to use it. Applying effects to your song is a subjective process, but the more you know about a particular effect the better your choices will be in using them. This week we are going to learn about delay and it's effects on your track.
But first, why not check out our previous article, All About Delays...
The audio delay is one of those tricky effects that I find to be a lot like compression. What I mean is that it is one of those effects that can be done in a subtle way or can be very heavily applied and still sound good. Sadly most go for the latter and either leave it making their track sound bad or end up taking it off all together and using something else. Yes, heavy delay can sound great on certain sounds, but for the most part it sounds better if applied with a little care and forethought. So let's take a closer look at this effect.
WHAT IS DELAY?
There are various kinds of delay effects both in hardware as well as software forms. By definition a delay is nothing more than what the name suggest. It is a device that records a signal and then plays that signal back after a specific amount of time has passed. There are lots of effects that you probably have in your effects toolbox that would fall under the category of a delay. These would include echos, reverbs and of course the various type of delays.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF DELAYS
As I have said, the term delay covers such a larger area when it comes to audio so let's drill out down to the specific types of delays that you may want to use on your next project in the studio. For the ease of this tutorial we are only going to focus on delay plugins.
There are three different types of delays that you may want to consider using while mixing your next track. They are tape delay, analogue delay and digital delay.
Tape Delay – This type of delay is meant to simulate the type of delay you would get if you were to run your signal through a tape machine. Old fashion recording hardware is known for it unpredictability and many emulations have tried to capture this in their plugins.
Analogue Delay – Analogue delays came around in the early 70's and are often grouped in the same effects bucket with tape delays, but they are slightly different. See analogue delays worked a lot like a real bad copy machine also from the 70's. The delays made with these seem to deteriorate over time. Imagine a bad copier and with each copy it looks more faded and looks less like the original. This may seem like a negative but it can give you some really great results on the right sound.
Digital Delay – This type of delay doesn't have some of the downsides that the other two have because digital delays have a great deal of accuracy to them. As with any digital they can be a little cold sounding when compared to other types.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONTROLS
For each delay plugin you are going to have different graphic interfaces, but it is a good idea to know the basic controls that you will find on just about every delay plugin out there.
Delay Time – This is simply the setting the timing of the delay. The delay timing is usually in the form of milliseconds (ms). Setting up the delay time is something that I like to do based on the feel of the song, but there is a math formula to it all that will get you in the ballpark when it comes to matching your delay to the song tempo. Now there are a ton of delay calculators out there both online and for download for you to use. However if you want to do it the old fashion way or you just want to double check your calculations, then this is the formula that I use.
A millisecond is 1/1000th of a second. Now you take the BPM (beats per minute) of your track as this will be the tempo of your song. For example let's say your track is 120BPM's, then this simply means that there 120 beats in your song every 60 seconds. This means that the beat is hitting twice per second in order to reach 120 beats in a minutes time. Because 1 second equals 1000 milliseconds all we need to do is divide this by our two beats (that are hitting every second) and we get half seconds or 500 milliseconds per beat. So your delay time should be 6000BPM based on milliseconds.
Some calculators will give you RT60. RT60 simply stands for RT or reverb time. The 60 part is when the sound pressure level decreases below -60 dB.
Feedback – The feedback parameter is used when you want some of the delays output to be fed back into the input of the delay. The amount of feedback used is of course subjective but generally speaking this should be used in moderation. You can run into some comb-filtering issues on shorter delay times.
Mix - Like on many other effects this is the amount of the effect (in this case delay) that you want applied to your signal.
Well hopefully you will be more open to using more delays in your mixes because you can really get some great sounds out of them and change the overall sound of your song. This tutorial was not meant to teach you everything about delays, but to get your familiar with these little jewels of the studio. Experiment and have fun!
Stay tuned for more weekly tips and tutorials every Wednesday.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.