Following on from our guide to using delay on vocals, we are going to look at a few more advanced uses of delay on vocals. Aside from the basic echo which repeats and dies away, there are a couple of things you can do with delay to give more texture to vocals, and lead vocals in particular.
This is a short delay with usually just one echo of the vocal part, it almost doesn’t sound like a separate delay but more like a reflection off of a hard wall in a small room. With the delay channel setup from the vocal delay guide already running, all you need to do is bring the delay time down to about 100-150ms, and reduce the effect of any low-pass filters or eq you have put in – as we want the delay to be crisp and punchy.
You can set this to either give you a ‘ping-pong’ delay from left to right, which bounces back and forth as the echo dies away, or you can use it more subtly to give some stereo width to a delay effect. For a ‘ping-pong’ delay, set the left side of a stereo delay plugin to be half the delay time of the right side, and the vocal will bounce from the centre (from the dry vocal channel) to the left and then right on the delay channel. If you want the delay to repeat and die away for longer, you will need to have much more feedback on the shorter side of the delay plugin, as the repeats come much faster so will die away quicker.
To add some stereo width to a vocal delay, you can reduce the delay time on one side by a very small amount – 10ms is plenty. Be aware that as well as adding some stereo width to the vocal delay, shortening the delay on one side will make the delay sound like it is coming from that direction. i.e. if the left delay is 10ms shorter than the right, you will hear just one delay slightly to the left of center, as well as the delay sounding wider. To compensate, you can make the right side louder to pull the delay back to the center and retain the added width.
Delays of less than about 80ms sound much less noticeable as separate delays, and blend in with the dry vocal part to help it sit better in the mix. This is very common trick for rock and metal vocals, where you usually can’t afford to add reverb because it is too thick and will take away from the clarity of the mix.
This is actually quite easy, all you need to do is put a compressor on the delay channel and set the side-chain input to be the vocal aux send (as set up from the vocal delay guide). Then dial up a fast attack time and slow delay and release times. This means that when the lead vocal sings, the delayed vocals are compressed so they don’t get in the way. When the lead vocals stop, the compressor releases and the end of the last phrase echoes. This can take some fine-tuning to get the delay and release times exactly right, and if it’s too tricky to get perfect then you can always simulate the effect with some straightforward automation of the delay channel.