Chris Lord-Alge Creative Vocal Delays

 

 

 

The pureMix "Lifeboats" series, in which some of the best engineers in the world mix the Will Knox song of the same name, kicks off with Chris Lord Alge in his SSL-based studio. In this excerpt, CLA is working on a delay throw for the vocal.

PUT YOUR SPIN ON IT

A throw (aka a "spin") happens when you selectively apply a delay to words or phrases—usually at the end of a line—on a vocal or instrument track. The section that you delay echoes over the pause between lines and is a dramatic effect. It also adds additional emphasis to the word or note that's delayed.

CLA is mixing the song from Pro Tools into his SSL console. The excerpt begins with him listening to the mix he's created so far and deciding that he'd like to try a different delay on the vocal. The one that's on there is roughly an eighth-note delay, and he wants to use something slower.

Here you see just some of the tracks from the Pro Tools session CLA uses in the "Lifeboats" mix.

He dials up a 1/2-note delay (synced to the song tempo of 134) on a Line 6 Echo Pro, which is an outboard hardware delay unit. He explains that he'll put the delay on an aux send and route the vocal to it through a bus. He'll activate the delay at the time he wants it by turning the send on, which he does by pressing a button on his console.

He'll automate the move using his console's automation system. He starts by delaying the word, "around," which comes in the pre-chorus section. After getting it set up, he tries it once but isn't happy with the timing of how he hit the button that turns on the delay send.

He tries it again and is satisfied. The delay accentuates the "a" in "around," which falls on an off-beat, as do the next two repeats. Due to how he's set the feedback, each repeat fades out a little more. He writes that button push into his SSL's scene-based automation system so that it's now part of the mix automation.

He also does a similar throw on the word "down," which ends the next line, although he keeps the level of the delay lower for that one, so it's much subtler.

If you're a PureMix Pro member, not only can you watch the full video, but you can try your hand at the "Lifeboats" mix, using the downloadable Excercise files, taken from the actual session.

THROWDOWN

In the excerpt, CLA mentions that there is space for him to do something with the delay. That's a crucial point to think of when contemplating a delay throw. In most cases, throws work best when the voice or instrument you're delaying pauses for a couple of beats or more. If not, the delay will wash over the following notes, which can cause a cluttered and over-processed sound.

The delay's feedback control is a key part of getting a good setting. Put it too low and you won't get enough repeats to cover the space, and put it too high and the repeats will keep going too long and interfere with the subsequent parts of the track.

 

Getting the feedback set just right is an important part of creating an effective delay throw. You can automate it (like is shown here) if you want it to change over time.

Creating throws are pretty easy and there are several ways to go about it. Here are three different ways to do it, all of which use your DAW's automation.

For all of them, start by setting up an aux track in your DAW with a delay on it. Configure a bus to feed the delay.

Method 1: Automate the mute on the delay send. This is similar to how CLA did it in the video.

  • Turn on automation record for the channel set to latch mode. That means it will stay at the new value after you move a fader or push a button while recording automation.
  • With the song playing, unmute the delay send at the beginning of the word or phrase you want to throw.
  • If the timing is a little off, you can now edit your mute automation to get the timing exactly where you want it.
  • Adjust the feedback to control the number of repeats and when they start fading out. Adjust the send level for the initial delay level.

 

 

Example 1: Here you see how to use the delay send's mute button to trigger the throw. In this case, it's on a lead guitar track, rather than a vocal.

Method 2: Automate the delay send level.

  • Turn on automation record for the channel set to latch mode.
  • With the song playing, bring the delay send fader up, timing it so that it gets to the level you want at the word or note you're trying to throw, and bring it down when you want the delay repeats to stop.
  • You'll probably need to adjust the automation of the send to get the effect timed the way you want.
  • Adjust the feedback to control the number of repeats and when they start fading out.

 

 

Example 2: Here, the delay's send level was automated with a fader and then edited a little. The line you see on the lead guitar track is the automation for the send. You'll also see the corresponding movement of the send itself.

Method 3: Use a second track for the delay with the words to be thrown pasted to it.

This is a little trickier to set up than the other two methods, but it can provide you with more control over the word getting thrown. Make sure you have a safety copy of your session (or a duplicate take on the track you're delaying) before starting.

  • Create a new track with duplicate settings to the one with the vocal or instrument you want to throw and remove the delay send from the original track.
  • Cut the words or notes you want to throw from the original track and paste them in the same location in the new track, which we'll call the "delay track."
  • If the transitions between words on the primary and delay tracks aren't sounding right, you can adjust their boundaries until they are.
  • Put a short crossfade at the beginning and end of each word or note to be thrown, and at the cuts on the original track.
  • The level of the delay track will determine how loud the word or note and the delay repeats of it are. If you're having trouble balancing them, you can adjust the output level of the delay plug-in to vary the level of the delayed signal, without affecting the word or note being delayed.

 

 

Example 3: Using the same lead guitar part, here's the third method. You can see the delay track underneath the original track.

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