Join Larry Crane for an in-depth discussion in this video Using analog tape delay for vocals, part of Music Production Secrets: Larry Crane on Mixing.
When I'm mixing a song a lot of times I want to add some kind of effects to the vocal tracks in order to make them fit in the mix better. It will start like this without any, (MUSIC) which is fine. You know, that's a good, clean, well recorded vocal. It would sound good in the track, but I like getting a little bit of ambiance in the background, a little something around the vocal. Sometimes I even think about like a little halo that makes it sit in the mix better and work properly. One of my favorite ways to get a good vocal effect is to use analogue delay, and one of my favorite delay units is this full tone tube tape echo. It's based on the old echoplex units which used a tape loop passing over several tape heads.
You can see the tape loop here stores in a cartridge and it runs around through here. It records on this head, it plays back on this head. The cool thing is, that allows use to pull this one to any position. Thus we'll have a longer delay when the tape head, the tape is being played back over here. On a shorter delay, when its being played right there, that gap determines how long of a delay we're hearing. Let's put this back together. What I really like, is like an Elvis style vocal slap back thing. Its real easy to set up, just a simple tape delay coming after the vocal. Let's plug this in here.
One word of warning. A lot of tape decks like this, these analogue delay hits, they will make a squeaking noise. I'm not sure if you're hearing it now but it drives me crazy in the control room. Lots of times I'll take it and and put it out in the live room and run cables out to it. Okay, let's hear it in the track. Female (MUSIC).
Male So there is a certain kind of low fidelity quality to that I find it that actually helps us setting the mix better. If it was a full, pristine copy of the vocal track that we were hearing delayed, it actually takes a little more space and jumps out against the lead vocal, and this low-fidelity version sits back in the mix better. That's kind of a cool texture. I really like it. Now, one thing to be aware of is setting the levels. When you're working in this kind of realm, you really should take care to be recording the tape delay the way you want to hear it. Listen to this by itself as we're tracking.
I'm going to turn. (SOUND). The level up a little bit. And also the tone here. There's a tone knob that'll change the sound of it. And we're going to hear just the tape delay on this pass. Female We're going to make this work. We're going to figure it out, try to fit the parts together, and put things in their place. Male So you can see how distortion, and those Ss popping out when I'm pushing the tape a little too hard, can be a bad thing.
One way to alleviate that is to do this, we'll go to our vocal track and we'll open up a de esser. I'm using the Massey de esser which I really enjoy using. And the de esser will make the lead vocal actually sound this way. Female We're going to make this work. We're going to figure it out. Male So you can see the DS'ers pulling the s sound down in the mix. I wouldn't DS a lead vocal this much. But when I'm just sending it to tape, why not try doing that? So let's hear how that sounds. As we're actually going to tape and soloing the tape. If we're going to have those kind of S's popping out anymore. Female We're going to make this work.
We're going to figure it out. Try to fit the parts together and put things in their place. (NOISE). Male So that de esser cleaned up the vocal sound there quite a bit on the delay. After I print this, I'll take the de esser off, remove it from the vocal track, and we'll have a nice clean vocal with a delay in the background. A lot of times I'll take this one step further and print two passes of tape echo for the vocals. What I'll do is I'll just nudge the second pass a little bit out of time. Maybe either faster or slower, just very slightly and then I'll print that. At the same time as the other track has already been recorded.
(MUSIC). Male That sounds pretty wild. I panned them left and right, so you have even more width. A lot of times I'll just do it really subtle and it just adds a little more depth, and it keeps the delay from having to be in the center of the mix and it gives a little more room for the vocal, itself. The other thing that I haven't touched on is this.
The echo repeats or regeneration knob on the delay. This allows me to feed the tape delay back into itself. Send it back again to the record head. And that's where you get, like, all the fluttering echo we're used to hearing. It sounds like this. (MUSIC). Male It makes it sound a lot more like reverb as opposed to tape delay.
And that makes total sense, because reverb in a room is actually multiple reflections become more diffuse. And by regenerating it back on itself, it actually does sound like an acoustic space. Now the fun thing is that we can go even further with this, and a lot of times, I'll print tracks where I go kind of crazy, and I get hands on, and I slide the time and I get a lot of really weird effects going. We can get some cool, cool sounds, and I'll show you a little bit of that right here. (MUSIC) (SOUND) (MUSIC).
Male So that's some pretty overt fun there. And by sliding it this way, of course, it's like stretching out the time and getting lower frequencies, lower pitch. And sliding it back this way, it's decreasing the time and pitching it back up and then regenerating, starts looping the audio, kind of, and creating all that fun stuff. You've probably heard that kind of effect on records by Radio Head and a lot of cool groups like that. And here's one cool trick that I've heard on one of their songs in particular. (MUSIC).
Male That sounds pretty awesome, huh? All it is, is just turning off the power to the tube tape echo and all of a sudden, the motor slows down, the electronics stay on for a split second and we hear the tape coming to a halt over the re-pro head. (NOISE) Pitch drops, done. It's really dramatic, I love that sound. I am guilty of trying got sneak it onto too many records myself. Maybe I've got to. Take that easy in the future. Now, another trick that I really, really like is backwards tape delays. And, it takes a little bit to set this up.
We have another movie that's about backwards reverbs, and that explains a lot more detail. About this process. Let me run you through this really fast, and definitely check out our reverb video for more of this. So, I've copied this audio from an earlier part of the song. Same thing we've been listening to. (MUSIC) So for the first step. Male And then, I've taken the audio and used a plugin to reverse the audio so it plays backwards. (MUSIC).
Male That sounds pretty crazy, right? And then, what I did, was I printed 2 tracks of tape delay off of this reverse audio, so we have a delayed reverse version of the vocal. Then i take those taped delays and reverse those, so now they go in the opposite direction of how i recorded. They sound like this. (MUSIC) (MUSIC). Male That's pretty wild. And when you hear them against the vocal going the proper direction.
(MUSIC). Male So that came out pretty wild sounding. Spooky kind of a weird ethereal thing going on. Always try to think of your effects as something you can really tailor for the song. Even if you're using plug-ins and you don't have a fancy tube tape echo. Go in there and EQ your effects returns, compress them, and try and make them sound unique. That way your mixes are you going to really stand out and be your own.
Want more music production secrets? Check out Music Production Secrets: Larry Crane on Recording.
- Understanding the mix room acoustics
- Cutting frequencies
- Prepping vocal takes
- Drum mixing
- Gating audio for noise elimination or for creative purposes
- Creating and using backwards reverb in a DAW
- Re-amping guitars, bass, vocals, and more