5 Simple Delay Techniques to Avoid a Boring Mix
Just say no to boring mixes.
No one likes a dull track. It’s a fact. Mixing and producing flat music is pretty crappy too.
But there’s two effects that are more important than the rest. I’ve already talked about the first one—It’s reverb.
The other most important effect is delay. Using delay creatively will liven up your mix and save your productions from that awful B-word (boring).
Delays are echoes of an audio signal that you control. And hey, if something sounds good you mine as well echo it right?
So save your productions from the boring bin. Here’s 5 easy and creative ways to use delays in your mix.
What is Delay in music?
Delays create an echoing effect on a sound or group of sounds. The amount of delay, and the timing of the delay is determined by the delay time and feedback. For example:
Here is a snare without delay:
And a snare with delay:
Pretty simple right?
Delay used to only be possible in naturally echoey spaces. But tape delay, digital delay, and eventually software delay effects have given musicians way more control over those delicious echoes.
Which means a whole world of creative choices are out there. Let’s dig in on some delay.
1. Fill the voids
Silence can add some nice tension to a mix. But too much empty space and your track is gonna get boring pretty quick.
A great way to keep your mix interesting is to let the echoes of your delay fill in the silent spaces you don’t need. Sometimes it’s not about how you use delays. It’s about where you use them.
If a part ends abruptly before the next part comes in, set up a simple delay with a low feedback setting. The feedback setting on your delay plugin will determine how many echoes of the original signal you’ll hear.
Experiment with the feedback to find what fits your mix best.
You can even let the delay echoes bleed into the next section of your track. This will give you more dynamic transitions. It’ll blend your parts better and keeps things interesting throughout the mix.
2. Use Delay to Introduce a new section
The best way to keep your tracks engaging is to finish your song sections with a quick delay. This can be at the end of 8 bars, 16 bars, or anywhere else a new section or part comes in.
If you don’t add in some variety, your track can end up sounding like a monotonous loop repeating over and over and over. Sounds boring right?
Try using a delay to lead into a transition. A good example of a delay before a change can be heard at the 2:00 mark of this track:
The brief delay introduces a new part coming in, and builds the excitement leading up to a change. And who doesn’t like an echoey horn section?
3. Double your Delays and Pan
Why use one delay when you can use 2? Most delay plugins allow you to add multiple delays to a single signal.
Try applying 2 delays at offset delay times to the same sound. Then pan one delay to the left and one to the right.
The offset delays will sound like they are weaving in and out of each other across the stereo spectrum. This is sometimes called a ping-pong effect.
This will give your mix an excellent sense of movement, depth and space. All with just 2 simple delays.
4. Use long delays to create subtlety
Smart layering gives any track added depth. Delay is a great tool for adding a subtle layer to your mix.
Set up a sound every 8 bars. Like a synth stab or bass pad. Crank the feedback to stretch the delay echoes all the way to the next hit. Keep it low in the mix so it doesn’t clutter everything else up.
This will give your mix an extended ambient layer that develops more slowly than other elements of your track.
It’s one of those little things that rewards repeated listens—The little things that make a track interesting.
5. Multi-tap It
Multi-tapping means putting multiple delays on a single signal. Adjusting the time signature on each delay — or ‘tap’ — gives you the power to create rhythms with your delays.
Adjusting the time signature and feedback of the echoes will give your track lush texture and depth.
It turns a simple synth into a swirling and rhythmic wash of alternating delay feedback.
Multi-tapping can be a bit confusing at first. But it’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Check out this superb multi-tap tutorial to find out more.
Play With Delays
Delay is essential for getting an interesting mix. Experiment with your delays and try applying them to groups of instruments instead of just single sounds.
As an effect delay is a creative and versatile tool. So try these tips on your mix and push them further to fit your sound.
Stop stalling and start delaying! And leave that b-word behind.
Rory Seydel is a musician, writer and father who takes pleasure in touring the world and making records. Creative Director at LANDR.
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