Using a delay plugin on vocal recordings is a useful alternative to full-blown reverb, it can give colour to the vocal track and help it sit better in the mix without getting too bulky.
There are two main approaches to adding a delay to vocals, either you can simply use a delay plugin directly on the vocal channel, or you can send the vocal to a new channel with an aux send which is what we suggest. If you do only use one channel, you will need to balance the dry vocal with the delay using the ‘mix’ or ‘blend’ control in the plugin which can be fiddly to automate if you have to.
On your vocal channel in the mix window, put in an aux send and set it to be around -6dB (post fade if you have the choice) so it’s at a more useful level for mixing later. On a new channel strip, set the input to match the aux send from the vocal. Now you can load up a delay plugin on this new channel.
If you are working to a preset tempo, or a tempo map, then set your delay plugin to follow the session’s tempo. If you don’t have an exact tempo then you can set the tempo to be approximate, or go straight to adjusting the delay time manually. Once the tempo is set choose what fraction of a bar you want the delay to be, 1/4 will give a pronounced delay which matches the beat in a 4/4 song and is very common, or an 1/8 length for a faster delay which is less clear but still definitely separate from the dry vocal.
Feedback sends some of the delayed signal back into the plugin to be delayed again, giving you an echo which repeats and fades away. As a general rule of thumb, start with about 10-15% feedback to give you a dying echo which isn’t too strong. If you want just a single delay, leave the feedback at 0.
If you leave the delayed vocal as an exact copy of the original vocal part, your ears get distracted from the original vocal. To get the delay to blend in and make it distinctive, most delay plugins come with a low-pass filter (or ‘LPF’) control so you can filter out some of the attention-grabbing top end. If your delay doesn’t have an LPF control, you can get exactly the same effect by putting an eq plugin on the delay channel, and taking out some high frequency content – probably from above about 6kHz.
You will need to balance the dry vocal against the delay channel, and this is where having the delay on a separate channel really pays off because the balance can change throughout the song. For example the verses might need a gentle amount of delay just to add some background colour to the vocal part, but for the chorus you might want no delay at all so the vocal cuts through clearly, which is all straightforward mixer automation.
Here are some more advanced vocal delay techniques for you if you to try out once you’ve got the hang of the basics.