Why You Should Use Delays When Mixing

You most probably know what delays are and you might even have come across a cool delay guitar pedal that makes you write some awesome psychedelic songs. Perhaps you have seen delays being used on various mixing tutorials online, especially on vocals. You know you can choose from 1/4, 1/8, 1/16-notes delays, and many other note values. (Using the Dotted note value is actually one of my favourite delays to use on drums, but more on that later).

Delays can be used to create special FX or give width to instruments, therefore, still allowing them to be dry and upfront in your mix.

In many of the pop songs nowadays, delays are almost always heard on the lead vocal, so let’s have a closer look at some examples.

Check out the delay on this track by Ariana Grande. Pay attention to the space after the first line of vocal, after she sings, “…I can barely breath

Pretty nice. Here they used delay, with some additional feedback, to fill out the space between the vocal phrases. It’s also in tempo with the track, which helps keep the groove going.

Below, another example, this time Beyoncé - Halo. The note value stays the same but listen to how the feedback increases the closer we get to the chorus, wherein the verse it’s a single repeat and in the pre-chorus, there are many more. This creates more excitement as the track builds. Pretty neat.

Now, all delays are not that obvious and many times they can be used to create width without being heard. This can be applied to vocals, guitars, drums or whatever you can think of. This is usually done with short, between 10-30 ms, delays. Below you can check this out on a drum kit. A short delay has been applied to the snare drum, the right channel and left channel vary slightly in it’s delay time to give us the spread of the image.

Did you feel the snare drum getting wider? Pretty cool, right!

As you have seen so far, delays can be used in many instances, but we are not done yet. Delays are also a great tool to add groove to a drum kit. Have a listen below.

I like to think of it as I’m adding ghost notes. It just grooves a lot more. Also, experiment with your note values, in this case, I used an 8th note delay but sometimes you get a better result with a 16th- or an 8th note dotted delay.

Learning about these various situations where delays are used is important because it will allow you to decide WHY you want to use a delay in a certain situation. Do you want to fill out a space, like in the Ariana Grande song? Do you want to create excitement or a sense of urgency as in the Beyoncé song? Do you want to widen a particular instrument? Do you want to enhance the groove on a drum kit?

The options are many but knowing what you want beforehand is the most important thing. Don’t just slap a delay plugin on something without asking what you want to achieve first.

The Most Important Features

The essential features you need on your delay plugin are, in my opinion:

Note value - Allowing you to change between 1/1 to 1/32nd notes.

Feedback - Allowing you to create repeats. Such as in Ariana Grande - Into You.

Low and High-pass filter - Allowing you to shave some of that low- and high-end of the delays. Allowing the delays to be “tucked” under without being overly distracted.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, was this helpful? Was there anything I missed that you like me to go through? Let me know!