Configuring “Overlapped Delay” In Your DAW

This may be a redundant subject for those intimate with DAW software, but I wanted to outline the technique for others, as it’s a really cool use of delay plugins (for the layman, a repeating echo effect). It can be applied to all sorts of different tracks… Vocals, guitars, drums, you name it.

I’ll be using the REAPER DAW and its ReaDelay plugin to demonstrate this, but it should be applicable to any modern DAW available today. Also included at the end of this article is an audio track that demonstrates the resulting sound.

I was mixing a song where two vocal phrases were sung in quick succession and wanted the first phrase to ring out via delay over the second, without any delay applied to that latter phrase.

For clarification, here’s an illustration of what I was after on the original vocal track as shown in the REAPER Track Control Panel (TCP), and indicated by arrows.

Overlapped delay
Mission: Apply delay to vocal phrase 1, overlapping phrase 2 which is to have no delay.

The use of “Bypass” automation on the delay plugin was out of the question, since of course it abruptly cuts off the effect immediately after the first phrase. Sure, you can fiddle with automation of the wet/dry mix and other controls in the delay plugin, but you’ll drive yourself nuts attempting to get this effect “just right” without multiple lanes, splitting vocal tracks, and other necessary adjustments. Personally, I think that’s far too tedious and in the end may actually prove impossible, depending on your DAW and delay plugin capabilities.

A second method I tried which has worked well for me in similar situations is termed “Dynamic Delay”, which involves side-chaining the delay plugin with a compressor plugin. In a nutshell, you set the compressor ratio to maximum and tweak its threshold until it “ducks” the delay, triggering it to activate only between phrases. It’s quite a slick approach, but still didn’t produce the outcome I was ultimately seeking.

Overlapped delay - Dynamic Delay via Compression
“Dynamic Delay” via a side-chain compressor. Arrow denotes delay compression.

By the way, there’s a great tutorial regarding Dynamic Delay on YouTube created by Kenny Gioia, should you wish to further explore its possibilities. In fact, the screenshot above was captured from that video.

Undaunted, I headed over to the good ‘ol REAPER forums, where friendly experts on this DAW abound. Within 5 minutes of my post asking about the best way to obtain this effect, I had my answer (many thanks to “ashcat_lt”) which produced exactly the result that I wanted.

As I suspected, like most things in REAPER, it’s super-simple to accomplish. To be honest, I was kicking myself in the ass for not thinking of it in the first place. [face palm!]

Here’s how:

  1. Add a new track and move the delay plugin there.
  2. Add a send from the source audio track to the new delay track.
  3. Add an automation lane for the send’s volume, initially set to 0dB throughout.
  4. Automate the send volume lane to raise the level of the first phrase at the desired spot (the one which is to repeat over the second phrase), then immediately bring it back down to 0dB.
  5. Adjust the delay plugin feedback control to taste, which primarily dictates the number of repeats over the second phrase.

That’s it! The only software required is your favorite delay plugin, a DAW capable of automation as well as configuring sends to other tracks, which in this day and age is just about all of them.

To better visualize this, here’s a screenshot of the vocal bus in the TCP with everything configured as I’ve just described. The delay plugin has been moved from the vocal track to the new “delay track” we just added, and the send volume automation lane routed to that track is at the bottom of the illustration. Note the short automated send volume level increase, from which the delay sample is sourced.

Overlapped delay - Send volume automation
Vocal track phrase 1 send volume level momentarily increased via automation.

A picture is worth a thousand words as they say, but to clearly understand the audio effect this produces, here’s a short blurb of the vocal bus precisely when this simple automation trigger occurs. Please pardon the lousy vocals, but this is a mixing tutorial, not a singing lesson!

Pretty awesome, eh?

I sincerely hope this adds to your arsenal of mixing techniques… Enjoy and, as always, any questions or feedback are welcome!

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