Now that I have your attention with that frankly hilarious joke, let’s learn about delay without any, eh, further ado…
Delay is an audio effect which records an input signal, stores it, and then plays it back after a set period of time. Essentially an echo of the original signal! It can be a one-time ‘slap-back‘ delay, or it can repeat multiple times.
The first delay effects were achieved using tape loops improvised on reel-to-reel magnetic recording systems. The length of the delay could be controlled by the length of the tape between the ‘record head’ and the ‘playback head’ (or read and write heads) of the machine which were a couple of inches apart. This length was increased by looping the tape around mic-stands and splicing it back together making an endless loop of tape, meaning the signal would go round and round, being constantly re-written by the write-head and picked up on a delay by the read-head.
Still with me? Good!
Delay has been around for a while; artists such as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis using it to add more space to their vocals making them sound bigger, and Pink Floyd using it to create a massive wall of sound. (That’s one of my favourite guitar solos by the way, it doesn’t get much better than that!) Time-based effects are a great way to make individual instruments or elements fill out a track and sound huge.
A famous user of delay is guitarist Brian May of Queen. His solos fill stadiums with the one guitar by using (among other effects) delay to create three-part harmonies with himself! This is the trademark Brian May sound:
In my own mixing, I had the perfect opportunity to use delay recently while recording a cover of ‘Oh Darling!‘ by The Beatles. Although the original track doesn’t actually use delay on the main vocals, I felt some slap delay would add to the vintage feel of the track!
Here is the vocal track with delay added:
This mix isn’t completed, but you can (hopefully) tell I’m going for a very vintage sounding delay. I achieved this sound by doing this:
I used the lo-fi plug-in to get it sounding old and worn, pretty dirty with harmonic overtones (like an analogue delay unit might), before adding delay, reverb, and then EQ to take away the high and low frequencies. This left an un-obtrusive, warm sounding delay that sounded a bit like the classic analogue delays used in the 60s. (Starting to believe my own bullspit)
Here is the delay by itself, so you can hear what I’m on about:
This was influenced by The Beatles’ producer George Martin, who used many prominent vocal delays in Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The delay in this album cuts through well, but is unobtrusive and acts to support the vocal sound rather than fight against it.
Here it is mixed in with the guitar track, the mix is far from finished but I reckon I’m in the right direction!
Before this year I never really used delay, sticking with reverb to add space to vocals and guitars. After experimenting with delay in this mix however, I have found a new favourite toy! You can expect a million more things with slap-back delay in the future…
Pro Tip: Don’t add delays or other time-based effects to the main vocal track, create an auxiliary track and work with them from there! This allows greater control over effects levels.
ALSO check out this video for another example by Dave ‘The Dude’ Pensado! “Hey guys, I was cruisin around Gearslutz…“