Having trouble figuring how to use your effects during mixing? Here’e a set of rules that can help you choose the best effects for each track more efficiently, courtesy of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.
Rule 1: As A General Rule Of Thumb, Try To Picture The Performer In An Acoustic Space And Then Realistically Recreate That Space Around Them. This method usually saves some time over simply experimenting with different effects presets until something excites you (although that method can work too). Also, the created acoustic space needn’t be a natural one. In fact, as long as it fits the music, the more creative the better.
Rule 2: Smaller Reverbs Or Short Delays Make Things Sound Bigger. Reverbs with decays under a second (and usually much shorter than that) and delays under 100 milliseconds (again usually a lot shorter than that) tend to make the track sound bigger rather than push it back in the mix, especially if the reverb or delay is stereo.
Rule 3: Long Delays, Reverb Predelays, Or Reverb Decay Push A Sound Farther Away If The Level Of The Effect Is Loud Enough. As stated before, delays and predelays (see below) longer than 100 ms (although 250 is where it really kicks in) are distinctly heard and begin to push the sound away from the listener.
The trick between something sounding big or just distant is the level of the effect. When the decay or delay is short and the level loud, the track sounds big. When the decay or delay is long and loud, the track just sounds far away.
Rule 4: If Delays Are Timed To The Tempo Of The Track, They Add Depth Without Being Noticeable. Most engineers set the delay time to the tempo of the track (see below on how to do this). This makes the delay pulse with the music and adds a reverb type of environment to the sound. It also makes the delay seem to disappear as a discrete repeat but still adds a smoothing quality to the element.
If you want to easily find the right delay time to the track and you have an iPhone, grab my “Delay Genie” app from the iTunes App Store. It’s free and will making timing your effects to the track incredibly easy.
Rule 5: If Delays Are Not Timed To The Tempo Of The Track, They Stick Out. Sometimes you want to distinctly hear a delay and the best way to do that is to make sure that the delay is NOT exactly timed to the track. Start by first putting the delay in time with the track, then slowly alter the timing until the desired effect is achieved.
Rule 6: Reverbs Sound Smoother When Timed To The Tempo Of The Track. Reverbs are timed to the track by triggering them off of a snare hit and adjusting the decay parameter so that the decay just dies by the next snare hit. The idea is to make the decay “breathe” with the track. The best way to achieve this is to make everything as big as possible at the shortest setting first, then gradually get longer until it’s in time with the track.
Of course, the biggest part of adding effects to a mix is experience, but following these rules will provide a perfect place to start.
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website, and go here for more info and to acquire a copy of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.