Pictured left, Pan and Gain Window; Pictured Right, Pitch and Delay Window
If you’re looking to fall down the rabbit hole of esoteric effects, DDLY will get you there with its dual, independent delay paths triggered by the dynamics of the line in question. How the signal is will determine which of the truly independent delays are engaged at any one time. Try bypassing one of the delays and tuning the threshold so that the echo only catches the loudest notes. For an added bonus, press the Wide button and listen as the occasional, delayed sound fills out across the stereo field.
This may seem a bit safe, sure. So switch from analog to granular delay to really dive into the rabbit hole, using the Pitch and Space parameters to create something akin to ring modulation. Save this for your most experimental projects or clients!
5. Try some transient shaping
One of my favorite aspects of electronic music is how sharp and precise the lead lines can be—how intentionally aggressive they seem when pushed to their limits. You can accomplish this effect within the synth itself, but you can also use a transient designer to kill the sustain and emphasize the attack of any lead element to give is some edge. Here again, I prefer Neutron 2 to the old SPL Transient Designer, because of how precise it is, and how many different curves it offers for implementation, as well as its multiband interface and easy-to-read graphical interpretation of the signal.
For an added dimension of craziness, try automating the parameters. It can be quite interesting to hear the sustain juiced up over time and then suddenly cut off, and same applies to the attack, or the overall level of the effect. You can really get musical with this trick, so I recommend giving it a shot.
7. Use a new instrument—or sidechaining a new synth
If you’ve tried everything else, and nothing is working, then perhaps you need to layer the sound with an additional element. This could be as easy as dragging the MIDI into a new track and opening a new soft synth.
However, if you’re working with a non-MIDI instrument—a guitar, vocals, or audio from an analog piece of equipment—you’ll have to try something else. For instance, you can deploy the audio as a sidechain for another instrument. For the sake of this piece, let’s refer to VocalSynth.
Once you’ve set up the routing for this process in accordance with your DAW, the sound can be subject to all sorts of crazy manipulation, not just your normal vocoder and talkbox settings. However, don’t discount these vintage effects, because they can be used with subtlety and grace, in a way that doesn’t call attention to their respective eras. I’m sure Radiohead didn’t use VocalSynth on the tune Sit Down Stand Up (it’s from 2003 after all), but it took me years to figure out the weird bit of production on the vocals around two minutes in: it was some kind of vocoder, but it doesn’t sound obvious. Something like this might be enough.
It is our job, as mixing engineers, to bring life to whatever is thrown our way. However, we must do so within reason. The artist had an intent, and this must always be respected. If the artist is you, then you have a lot more leeway. Not so if you’re working for a paying client.
Therefore, when trying these tips and tricks, always make sure you’re staying within the boundaries of the song. You can do this by checking your work against references, or by judicious communication with the artist—or hopefully, both! However you go about trying to add some pizzazz to the main event, make sure you do it with a respectful hand, because we serve the music, not the other way around.