Mixing – Programming Multi-Voice Delays

Programmed with skill, multi-voice delay— using long delay times—can impart clearer and more dimensional ambience to a mix than reverb.
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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.

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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 production.

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.