Mixing – Programming Multi-Voice Delays
|Fig. 1. Lexicon Dual Delay lets you adjust the delay time, level, panning, filtering and feedback parameters independently for each of four delay voices. In the lower-right corner of the GUI, feedback for a quarter-note delay is filtered above 500Hz, panned left and attenuated over 20dB to make it barely audible.
PROGRAMMED WITH skill, multi-voice delay—
using long delay times—can impart clearer
and more dimensional ambience to a mix than
reverb. On the other hand, careless parameter
adjustments can create scattershot echoes
that clutter a production. In this article,
I’ll show you how to launch tracks such
as lead vocals and guitars into a capacious
virtual expanse by tossing expertly crafted
delay voices into the mix. To illustrate
my points, I’ll use the Lexicon Dual
Delay plug-in (included in the company’s
PCM Native Effects Bundle). Successful
programming begins with creating an
echo pattern that’s well-matched to your
Support the Groove Synch your plug-in to
your host DAW’s tempo. For each delay voice,
choose a different delay time, specified as a
note value (such as dotted-eighth) rather than
in milliseconds. (Using note values will speed
the creative process and preclude the need
for you to calculate delay times equivalent to
note values for your song’s tempo.) The note value you choose for each voice should, when
combined with the other voices, create a short,
rhythmic echo pattern that complements the
song’s groove. To avoid confusing clutter, in
most cases the last echo should voice no later
than a half note after the dry input and very
long echoes should be barely audible.
If you can’t conceive a cool pattern in your
head, try tapping it out on your leg or tabletop
while your song plays back. Determine how
loud each tap (echo) should sound in order
to create rhythmic accents; you’ll create the
softer echoes in the plug-in by attenuating
either the level of a delay voice or its feedback.
Give Yourself Room to Maneuver If your
plug-in provides a delay-level master in its
control set, adjust it initially to be around 50%
of full value. This will allow you to adjust the
level of all delay voices at once proportionally
higher (up to twice as loud) or lower after
you’ve already programmed the echo pattern.
You’ll be able to control your gain staging and
make the grouped echoes sit pretty in the mix
using only one control, rather than mess with
the individual levels for each delay voice and
risk torpedoing your carefully wrought balance.
Taper the Echo Trail’s Level and
Bandwidth In nature, sounds that bounce
off a distant surface will sound less loud
and bright than those bouncing off a nearby
surface when they return to the point of origin
(assuming the surfaces have roughly identical
absorption coefficients). Keep this in mind
when programming your delays. For the most
natural-sounding ambience, program longer
delays—whether primary voices or generated by
feedback—to be lower in level and have weaker
high frequencies than shorter delays. You can roll
off highs using a low-pass filter for each voice and
its feedback, using progressively lower corner
frequencies with increased delay time (see Figure 1).
Use Feedback Wisely If your plug-in
allows, apply more diffusion to feedback than
to primary echoes. This will sound more
natural and be less distracting in the mix.
Put another way, you want very late-arriving
echoes to airbrush subtle fairy dust on your
tracks rather than produce hard, discrete
echoes that will unduly compete for attention.
To craft a more complex and interesting
soundstage, consider panning feedback
differently than its associated delay voice.
Don’t hesitate to turn feedback off for some
or all of the delay voices if it either confuses
the mix by arriving too late or undermines the
rhythmic pattern of echoes by, for example,
making it too dense.
Break the Rules The foregoing tips are
a safe bet for getting great results on most
productions. But don’t be afraid to push
the envelope. For example, a smattering of
short, dull echoes can be followed by a long,
bright delay to simulate your track bouncing
off nearby absorptive surfaces and a distant
hard wall, respectively. If that’s what your
production needs, go for it!
Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael
Cooper Recording in Sisters, OR (www.myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording),
and a contributing editor for Mix magazine.