The Hottest Sound on the Net, January 2015

Much as the self-titled Beyoncé album dominated conversation a year ago, D’angelo’s surprise release of ‘Black Messiah’ was a big talking point in the music world this December. The sprawling, swirling psychedelia of the album recalls Sly Stone, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, even Hendrix in places and has had the critics in raptures. The LA Times called it “as vital as it is sublime”, while Pitchfork declared that “Black Messiah pulls together disparate threads few predecessors have had the smarts or audacity to unite.”

Interestingly, the album was recorded to two-inch tape, and the dense production is fascinating in places. ?estlove of The Roots has a hand in the production and you can see him discuss the album in a lecture he gave to Red Bull Music Academy way back in 2013 – “This album has taken eleven years to make, but the amazing thing about it, is that it still sounds like it came out tomorrow”. It is particularly interesting to see him discuss the ethos behind his drumming on the album; “What kind of drum beat have I never, ever played before?” The interview provides an intriguing window into the thought process behind a remarkable new album.

See the full lecture below (the D’Angelo album is discussed from 1:27:17).


Lecture: Questlove (New York, 2013) from Red Bull Music Academy on Vimeo.

Photo Credit : Stretta

Studio Staple

Alongside EQ, reverb and compression, delay is one of the cornerstones of the producer’s toolkit. It is an effect that you will use in some way on most of your mixes, and often you will use it on a large number if tracks within a single mix. Here, we are going to discuss several creative ways in which you can integrate delay into your mix, and we will detail several ways in which you can use this effect as a creative tool.


Making Space For Delay In The Mix

‘Us & Them’ on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon features probably one of the most famous uses of delay in music history. Take a listen to the track below. The delays feature from about 1:40.

What is so clever about this is not just the use of the delay, but the fact that the band leave space in the music so that you can hear the delayed vocal clearly. If you want to make a feature of delay in your music, think about how you can make space for it in your mix.


Being Creative with Buses and automation

It is often a good idea to set a delay up on an auxiliary channel, rather than using it as an insert effect. This technique has numerous advantages, not least when it comes to automation. Take another listen to the Pink Floyd track above. You will notice that the delay is only audible in between the sung phrases. Now clearly when this album was mixed, the delay level was dropped manually, but these days we thankfully have automation to make our leaves easier. If your delay level is too high it can often obscure a lead vocal, leading to rather messy results. Try keeping the delay level turned down until there is a gap in the vocals, when you can then bring the level back up without there being any danger of obscuring your lyrics.

There are various other tricks you can try when your delay is set up on an aux as well. Try adding some distortion to the delay signal, or perhaps a filter sweep… You can quickly obtain some very interesting results.

A final neat trick that can be utilised on any instrument, but is particularly useful on synths, is to use your delay bus to achieve a bigger sound. Pan your synth (or other audio track) to one side and send it to a bus that is panned to the opposite side. Set a delay at 100% wet, with a very short delay time on the bus, and perhaps EQ the channel slightly as well, so that it is easier to differentiate between the sounds on either side of the stereo field. You will hopefully find that you have a much bigger synth sound. This trick can also provide you with a really nice 80s style snare sound – it is certainly worth experimenting with!


Dub Feedback Loops

One of the genres most closely associated with use of delay is dub. Setting up a dub style feedback loop is relatively simple and can be used to add some fascinating textures to your mix. The basic premise is that you set up a delay channel that feeds back into itself, creating a constant sonic texture. You can then bring this texture in and out of your mix as you see fit. The original Jamaican dub pioneers did this live, more or less using the mixing console itself as a musical instrument. Watch dub producer Scientist perform such a mix below:

To create a feedback loop you first need to decide which audio track you want to send to the delay – we need to feed some kind of audio into the delay to get the feedback loop started. Once you have decided on this, set up a send from your audio track to an auxiliary track that has been set up with a ping-pong delay and a limiter. You then need to set up a send from this auxiliary track back to itself – this is how we set up our feedback loop. The delay plug-in can be set up more or less however you want, but make sure it is set to 100% wet. Perhaps begin with it set to triplets and with some of the low frequencies removed – these are fairly typical settings for dub. It is important to set up a limiter too, as the feedback loop can build to speaker-busting volumes if allowed to develop unchecked. Set the limiter to -0.2 dB or so, to stop the loop from getting any louder than that.

With all of this set up, you are ready to begin. Play your audio, and turn up the send on your audio track for just a moment, before turning it down again. This will send a brief snatch of audio to your delay channel, that will then start feeding this audio back to itself. Turn the send up on your delay aux to boost the level of the feedback loop, and turn it down again to allow the loop to decay. It is possible to create some really interesting sounds this way, and you can obviously add more effects to the channel to take the sonic manipulation even further.


Changing The Pitch Of The Echoes

One interesting feature of many digital delays is that the pitch of the echo changes as you alter the delay frequency. This is an emulation of an effect that was produced when using tape delay. To change the rate of delay when using tape, the actual playback speed of the tape had to be altered, causing the change in pitch. This was quickly seized upon as a creative tool, and many tape-modelling digital delays have therefore copied this quirk, so that producers can continue to play with this idea. It is certainly a way of adding an interesting sound to your mix, and can be very effective when used in conjunction with a feedback loop, as described


Our Delay-Based Reaktor Ensembles:

We have some really nice delay-based sweets that will help your creative juices flow. They are all part of Musicrow Golden Ensembles – The Complete collection to NI Reaktor. Check them out!

Crow Tape Echo – Vintage Classic Delay Sound

Tape Echo Reaktor EnsembleCrow GrainD Lay – Granular Delay

Granular DelayCrow Magician – Multi-Tap Delay

Magician Multi-Tap Delay

The Hottest Sound on the Net, December 2014

This month, the ‘Hottest Sound on the Net’ is not actually a sound per se, but a book about sound.

The author of ‘The Sonic Boom…’ is Joel Beckerman, a man whose company, Man Made Music, have been responsible for everything from soundtracking the Superbowl to creating the Reuters audio ID.

The book is keen to explain the power of sound, and is aimed at those of us who work in areas such as sonic branding. He includes scientific explanations where possible, for example in his explanation of why we tend to respond to sound first, and visual stimulation second: “When you think about it from a survival point of view, there is a tremendous evolutionary advantage to a primate that can react instantly to something that is out of their line of sight”.

He also includes plenty of anecdotes, some of which are incredibly interesting. You can read an extract from the book over on Wired that discusses the evolution of Apple’s start-up sound. This is a sound that is so iconic that Pixar can now use it as a joke in one of their movies (see below), but the development of this ‘audio logo’ was actually fairly tortuous. The sound designer responsible for the sound, Jim Reekes, battled with upper management in an attempt to get the Apple start up sound changed, and in the end resorted to subterfuge to get his way! The full story is well worth a read.

‘The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms The Way We Think, Feel and Buy’ by Joel Beckerman is out now.

Just another day at the office: a glimpse into Musicrow’s world

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”, Victor Hugo