When learning how to mix vocal delay, be sure to first understand how to compress, EQ, and saturate your vocal, since this processing should occur prior to time-based processing. Additionally, using auxiliary tracks to set up delay processing lets you affect just the delayed signal.
Where to Insert Delay in a Vocal Chain
Delay should almost always be inserted near the end of your vocal chain, typically after corrective EQ, compression, de-essing, and saturation. Ideally, we want our vocal to be dynamically controlled and have a relatively balanced frequency response prior to being delayed or processed with time-based effects.
Additionally, we don’t want to feed the delayed signal into our compressor, de-esser, and so on, since we want a clean signal to trigger these processors.
Let’s listen to the delay used at the beginning, then at the end of the chain to get a better understanding of how its routing affects the sound.
Great Vocal Delay Settings
Before we get into more complex delay setups, let’s discuss a simple and quick way to get a great vocal sound. I’ll insert a stereo delay on my vocal chain, and use a 1/8th note on one channel and a dotted 1/8th note delay on the other.
I’ll isolate the delay to the low and high mids, use about 15% feedback, 3-5% crossover, and lower the output to help it blend.
Let’s listen with slightly more aggressive mix settings to hear the effect, but keep in mind that a lower mix value might be better.
Parallel Vocal Delay and EQ
When I’m using delay, I prefer to use a bus and insert the delay plugin on the auxiliary track. For convenience, I’ll use the same plugin and settings as the last chapter, but this time, turn the output up to 100% and use the aux fader as my wet/dry.
Next, I’ll insert an EQ after the delay and dip a little of 2-4kHz. This is going to reduce the amount of delay on these frequencies, helping the vocal stick out and making the delay blend.
As you can imagine, you can use this EQ to really shape how you want the delay to sound.
Let’s take a listen to this setup and notice how it differs slightly from the last chapter.
Getting Details from Vocal Delay
Similar to the last chapter in which we added EQ after a delay to shape it, we can add compression after a delay to pull details forward. Again, since this is a parallel track or send, this compression is only affecting the delay taps, not the original vocal.
I’ll use longer, smoother compression, but with a quicker attack to capture the delay early on. Then, I’ll use automatic makeup gain to bring forward quieter details of the delay.
Let’s listen and notice how the delay’s quieter aspects and overall amplitude are increased.
Stacking Multiple Delay Types
When using multiple delay types, odds are we don’t want to send one delay into another, since the second delay would be triggered by an already delayed signal. With that said, let’s set up a second aux track and insert our new delay there – this time, with short settings.
I’ll use a different plugin for the short delay – this time with the Waves H-Delay, and set it to 1/64th note. Again I’ll keep the feedback low, and isolate the reflections to the low to high mids.
Let’s listen to our original delay and this one combined using 2 separate aux tracks.
More Musical Vocal Delay Pt.1
Earlier we discussed adding EQ after the delay to shape the reflections – let’s do that again, but this time use the plugin Punctuate by Newfangled audio to emphasize the transients of each delay tap. This is going to make the start of each tap more defined and easier to hear.
Additionally, the transient expansion bands are set to the Mel scale, meaning they’re easier for listeners to distinguish from one another.
Let’s take a listen and let me know if you think transient expansion after delay improved the sound.
More Musical Vocal Delay Pt.2
If we know the key of our song, we can emphasize the 7 in-key notes and attenuate the 5 out-of-key notes using an EQ. I’ll do this to both of our aux channels to augment the more in-key aspects of the delay.
For this track, the key is E major so I’ll amplify C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, and B. Then I’ll attenuate C, D, F, G, and A#.
Let’s take a listen to this EQ being added to the delay taps.
Emphasizing Delay Harmonics
If you want to create a distinct sounding delay you can introduce saturation after the delay on your send. Saturation is going to introduce harmonics that relate to the fundamental which will make the delay sound more musical as well as fill out the sound.
Let’s take a listen to what our 2 delays sound like when moderately saturated.
Stereo Widening with Sample Delay
If we’re mixing a BGV and we want to change its location, we can use a very short delay on one channel to change its placement in the stereo field. Using a sample delay plugin on a stereo vocal, I’ll delay one channel by a few milliseconds.
Let’s listen and notice how this creates an incredibly wide sound, and how it’s an effect that can be used on vocal doubles and BGVs.
Frequency Specific Vocal Delay
Although most delay plugins let us alter the delay frequency if we want a lot of control over our delay we could use this setup. First, let’s create 3 busses and aux tracks on which we’ll insert 3 linear phase EQs – each isolating a specific frequency range.
Then we’ll insert delays on each and alter the settings to whatever we want. For example, if we want a short delay to thicken the lows, moderate delay on the mids, and super long delay on the highs, this is now an option.
Let’s take a listen and consider how this could be used creatively in a mix.
Achieving Lo-Fi Delay
Lo-fi delay is really easy to achieve, and you don’t need a specific emulation of a vintage delay to do it. On an aux send let’s first insert the delay, then an EQ, then a saturation plugin; with the EQ I’ll use high and low pass filters to narrow the frequency range.
I may also create a resonance filter around 2kHz.
Then I’ll saturate heavily using the saturation plugin. We could also try putting the EQ first, or the saturation first, and see how changing the order of the processors affects the overall sound.
Let’s take a listen to the Lo-Fi delay.
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