How to Use Delay Like a Pro When Mixing:
1. The Short & Long of It:
Short delays of under 100ms tend to blend with and smear the edges of the original dry sound. This can make the original sound appear larger as the delay doesn’t appear as a distinct separate echo but rather merges with the dry sound.
This idea lays at the basis for techniques like the Haas stereo trick and old-school classics like doubling and slap-back.
Longer delays tend to be used for groove, texture and the creation of a sense of space in the mix.
These types of delays can be great for keeping the interest of the listener and for filling empty spaces in your mix without using space-greedy reverb.
2. Mind Your Math:
Music is emotion, yes. It however becomes math when we analyze and work on it. So, at times it helps to get a bit mathematical about it.
You can set more exact delay, reverb and even compressor attack and release times when you know the standard note lengths of your track in milliseconds.
You can work out exact note lengths from your tempo or BPM setting with the use of a calculator. Just Google "BPM Delay Calculator" whenever you need to convert. Saves you having to run through this little calculation:
60,000 ms / Tempo (BPM) = Delay Time in ms for one quarter note
Much quicker to just use an online calculator that gives you all the note lengths, including dotted notes and triplets.
3. Connect the Dots:
Stabs and single hits can benefit from synced delays. Let’s say you’ve placed a single one-shot orchestra hit on beat one of a 4, 8 or 16-bar section of your song. A synced delay that finishes its last delay tap just before the next occurrence will connect the separate occurrences of the hit for the listener.
The fade of level on each successive tap has the effect of drawing the listener into the mix and sets up their expectation for the next hit.
4. Generate Some Groove:
Delay can be used in many ways to create groove in your tracks. You can, for example, add an 8th or 16th note delay, straight, dotted or triplet, to a simple straight quarter-note hat to produce a more complex pattern.
Make it more subtle by only adding the delay to the last tick of the hat in every bar or every two bars.
This same trick can be used on other drums, vocals and other instruments.
5. Texture & Beds:
Delay effects with extreme feedback settings can be useful for creating beds, texture and other creative effects.
The trick here is to not just put the delay in your mix and leave it there. You could, but you would have to automate the feedback so things don’t get out of hand.
Instead, bounce down the effect to a separate track and then manipulate the delayed sound. You can reverse it, fade it in or out, place a side-chain compressor over it to make it pump with your kick as a trigger for the compressor.
This is a fun place to experiment with all your more exotic modulation tools like ring modulators, phasers, flangers and auto-pitch tools.
Place any of these or other effects before or after your delays to create weird and wonderful oddities. Automate different effects in and out of your delays to create a sense of movement and maintain interest.
The keyword here is controlled chaos. First you make the chaos, then you bounce it down and then you tame it with smart editing, automation, EQ and compression.