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Subtly Using Delays to Add Energy


This post focuses on using delays to subtly add or change the energy of a sound.

I’m a big fan of delays. They add a lot of the depth and texture that people usually grab reverbs to achieve without taking up as much of the space. This distinction helps avoid sandboxing your mixes in the 80s and 90s sound (unless you’re going for that, of course). Delays also can dramatically change the feel of a sound, particularly with drums, in very subtle ways. Often a delay can be used to add energy in a way such that the addition isn’t obvious, but when you remove the effect it’s apparent that something was changed. The original vocal effect was a 15 or 30 ips tape delay, after all (heard all over John Lennon recordings, for instance).

The main rule of using delays is that delays set to tempo values are less obvious and delays set to non-tempo values are very obvious. The closer you are to actual beat values, the more the delay will blend. The further away, the more it will separate out. Also, rolling off the high-end of the delay’s return will blend more.

For these examples I used the Waves Multitap Delay plugin set to light feedback and with a substantial high-end roll-off (the Musicians II bundle I have linked to is one of the best ‘first plugin purchase’ values out there, in my opinion).

Here’s the original drum loop: Drum Loop Dry (120bpm)

If I add a delay equal to the time of one measure with a light feedback setting, you end up with a slightly more energy but with the same feel: Drum Loop with Measure-long Delay

Here’s the delay on its own: Measure-Long Delay Alone

Shifting the value to the less conventional but still tempo-related value of a dotted quarter note dramatically changes the feel in a subtle way (I removed the feedback to retain more clarity): Drum Loop with Dotted Quarter Delay

Heres the delay alone (sounds just like the original, just shifted later and with less high end): Dotted Quarter Delay Alone

You can do this sort of thing with any instrument you like, but it’s particularly useful with drums and drum loops.  Used properly, delays such as these can really ‘glue’ a mix together nicely when placed in context with other rhythmic elements.

P.S. this loop is taken from a loop library from Sounds Good. So you probably shouldn’t nab it.