Delays on vocals can do many great things. For starters, it increases depth and can make your vocals fit in more nicely with your mix. But delays can also improve your rhythm and effectively fill out silent gaps in your track.
This article will teach you five great ways to use delay effects and plugins on your vocal tracks. Let’s start with the first tip – using the legendary slap delay.
1. Slap Your Vocal
The slap delay effect is as classic as the king of pop, Elvis Presley. In fact, the effect became popular in the early 50s in music by that very same artist. But in those days, they didn’t have fancy laptops with VST plugins. They didn’t even have slap delay hardware.
How the effect was created was by connecting two tape recorders with one having recording with a delayed offset. Doing this created a wet and in modern days, wide delay that has found its use on a wide variety of sounds.
But most notably, slap delays are incredible for giving vocals depth. And today, with great VST delay plugins like EchoBoy from Soundtoys, you can easily emulate hardware from the vintage days.
Pro tip: Use slap delay with a minimum of 64 millisecond delay. For a widening effect, you can try using 64 ms on your left and 124 ms on your right. Don’t match it to your beat, because the best slap effects come from having the delays slightly offset from your beat.
You can also try combining different slap delays for an even more glimmering vocals.
2. Make Your Vocal Stereo
Stereo delays are a great way to widen your vocal tracks. And among modern day delay plugins and different types of effects, there are many ways to go about it. The obvious first choice is a simple stereo delay, delaying your vocal track in a widening fashion.
But you also have ping pong delays, which bounces your vocals hard left and right for a very wide effect. Slaps can also work great for widening your vocals.
If your vocal track is mono, using stereo delays gives your vocal tracks a stereo dimension which can work great in your mixes. Try experimenting with different delays, times, and feedback, and try automating your delays for an even more interesting effect.
For example, you can make your delays narrower in your verse and wider in your chorus.
3. Accent Phrases & Words
Delays are a great way to accent the message in your vocals. In electronic or EDM music, accenting certain phrases or words in your vocal hooks can be a great way to make your vocal tracks and mix more interesting.
How you go about it is simple. Find words or certain parts you want to highlight, go into your delay automation settings, and increase the effect. You can also cycle the delay effect on and off for certain words for a creative take.
4. Fill The Silence
A great use of delay is filling silences of your mix. For example, in your breakdown. Let’s say your vocal track sings something and then stays quiet for four bars, with some background instruments building for your drop.
There, you can use delay to fill the silence. Automate your feedback knob and let that delay ring. Once it’s time for your drop, you can turn down your feedback or turn off the delay altogether to make it more focused.
5. Improve Your Groove
Delay and groove go hand in hand. With purposeful delays on your vocal tracks, you can complement and enhance the groove of your drums, melodies, and instruments. A great and quick way to do this is by using triplets or other delay settings that stand out from your foundational groove.
With your entire mix playing, try different delay settings and timings and see how it affects your mix. Does it improve the groove or overall feel? If not, try a different setting. And remember, delays don’t always work. Sometimes, a vocal reverb fits your mix best.
Using delays can do tremendous things with vocals. It can make dry vocals wet and filled with depth. You can use it to accent your hook. Or you can make it dance around your drums and percussion loops to take your grooves to the next level.
The most important thing with delays is to experiment. Never use a delay because you’ve read it’s the best thing to do. Listen to your delays and how they improve your vocals in the context of the rest of your sounds.
Sometimes, you want to try many different types of delays to see what sounds best. Other times, combining several delays or reverbs and delays is your best option.
Never be afraid to try new things.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.