Join Alex U. Case for an in-depth discussion in this video Get in the Mix: Establishing groove with long delays, part of Foundations of Audio: Delay and Modulation.
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Well timed long delays, echos are an excellent way to fill in part of the rhythm track of a song. Reggae's famous for its cliche over the top echo. Drum programmers have been known to put an eight through a quarter note delay across the entire groove in some dance music. And guitarists use delay too. Let's go into the live room where David has his guitar running through a delay effect and give it a listen. In this example, David played just a few notes, and the delay filled in the rest. This repeating echo becomes an integral part of the performance itself.
Now let's add some excitement to a song with a bit of echo based groove enhancement. The bridge of this tune is pretty wacky, but it's on purpose. That's what I'm going for. There's a lot going on here. The top of the list is some groove echo I've added to the driving strums of that acoustic guitar. This tune features a common challenge, a surprisingly simple instrumental arrangement need somehow to rise to an occasion. In this case, there is the thrilling vocal arrangement that is the focal point of the bridge. We just need to get the relatively simple rhythm section underneath those vocals to grow stronger, and more exciting.
Sure some added electric guitars or well designed synth parts would do the trick, but here I'd like to go for an emotional life through mixed moves only. I want to try to make the acoustic guitar swirl and move and groove and to communicate excitement and don't forget, the repeated lyric here is the title of the song, this time around. The word, around, naturally invites some motion. Some well placed echos on the acoustic guitar might be just right. The guitar echo is built from five taps of a multi-tap echo. A delay with at least five individually adjustable delays.
We need to place the resulting echos into the mix in a way that supports what the guitarist is playing. It's always the case that the engineer must get along well with the guitarist. We definitely want musically relevant delay times for each of these delay taps. We're thinking in terms of quarter notes and half notes, not in terms of milliseconds. So using the tempo sync feature of the plugin is a big help. Good, rhythmic syncopation of this sort of performance will come from patterns built on 16th notes. Tap one is set to a quarter note, which is of course four 16th notes.
Tap two is a dotted quarter note made up of six 16th notes. Tap three is set to ten 16th notes. This one might be a bit confusing at first. I think of it as eight 16th notes, which is a half note. Plus two more 16th notes, which delays it all by a further eighth note. A delay of a half, plus an eighth, means the echo falls on the upbeat half a bar later. A classic syncopation note. Tap four lands with a rhythmically strong eighth note anticipation to a full bar delay.
And tap five is that one whole bar later, 16 16th notes of a delay. I spent some time with this trying many different patterns and I'm currently liking this sort of pattern, and in fact, I prefer it with the first tap turned off. The levels of these delay taps follow a typical strategy that later echos are quitter than earlier echos. You can see them falling off to minus 3 then minus 6 and finally minus 9 db. The left, right panning of each delay is quite important too and reminds us of another creative variable that we have to work with, even as we play with grew.
Stereo, you can, of course, keep the entire effect mono, but it is common to add motion to the mix by ping ponging the delays back across the mix. A hard panned left right ping pong is rather a blatant effect, so I place the early echos closer to the center and the last delays hardpan. So as this effect unfolds, the echos grow slightly lower in level and pan gradually farther out to the side. This pattern isn't the only option. With groove based echos, you get to explore, create and express yourself.
What I like most about this pattern is how the late echos act as a sort of anticipatory acceleration back to the strong down strum on the down beat falling on beat one of each bar of the bridge. It creates a kind of crescendo that we built from our echos. These echos form a pattern that fits with the performance and adds to the mix. I should point out that I didn't use that early quarter note echo. It was helpful to have it on while I explored all the options, but just because the plug in gives us the delay output, doesn't mean our mix needs it.
The quarter note at tap one crowded in too close to the performance, and it interfered with the groove the guitarists established. This groove echo pattern turns out to have other uses. Listen to the acoustic guitar part immediately after the bridge. Echos can linger and churn faintly beneath a track to give it support to help it keep up with a busy mix. The elegantly simple two note alternation part that follows this bridge is melodically grounding even as the choruses grow more exciting. But we need to help this humble acoustic guitar keep up with the rest of the mix.
Low level echos can do the trick. We get just a bit of extra energy and time blurring to help this simple part get heard in the mix. Letting the prior note linger on, as the guitarist plays the next note, lets them overlap more, upgrading a melodic part to something with more harmonic interest too. In this way, a pattern of rhythmic echos can provide a bed of support, a foundation for a track in need of subliminal sonic enhancement. Acoustic guitar, background vocals, harmonica, falsetto voice, triangle rhythm patterns.
Any fragile sound might welcome exactly this sort of treatment.
- Adjusting the delay time, level, and feedback parameters
- Utilizing a low-pass filter and polarity reverse
- Setting up an effects loop
- Setting the delay time by tempo or by ear
- Understanding the distinct uses of short, medium, and long delays
- Adjusting modulation rate, depth, and shape
- Adding double tracking and spreader effects
- Manipulating tone with constructive or destructive interference
- Creating a comb filter and flange effect