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Using Effects

Effects make all the difference to a tune.  Here's an overview of some of the most popular effects in modern music making.


A chorus effect is the making of one voice or instrument sound like many.  In the analogue days, this was done by engineers who would replay the same voice or instrument recorded on a tape over and over again, at slightly different speeds, making a new recording as they went.  Digital plug-ins emulate this effect, one of the most used production techniques.  This video by shows off how to make a chorus effect in Ableton, with a great example starting at 5:40.   



Compression is another much used effect in today's beat making and music production.  One use of compression is to even out the volume of a track by making the loudest bits of a track quieter and the quietest bits louder.  Compression can also be used to 'reign in' frequencies to make a particular sound sit better in a mix.  On top of all this, you have clever use of compression to thank for those drums in your favourite contempary hip hop song. 

Like many effects, however, over use or unskilled use of compression is one of the fastest ways to make your track horrible.  Over compression will reduce the dynamic range of whatever you are using it on.  Ever heard a poorly produced dance or hip hop track and the drums are loud, but 'dead'?  If you are getting a headache just recalling a time when you've been subjected to this type of drum, the chances are that over compression had brought the overall loudness up and crushed the 'dynamic range'.  Yes, the late great J Dilla and his beat making wonder twin Madlib were / are masters of over compressing drums until that quintessential hip hop drum 'crunch' zenith was reached, but us mere mortals should show some restraint when using compression.  At least to begin with.   

The below video, taken from the award winning Point Blank Music School, is a great introduction to compression.  Tutorial by Danny J Lewis.


As you learn more about music production and especially the use of effects, you will learn that:

a. There are often numerous ways to achieve the end result.
b. You can use an apply an effect in different ways for numerous reasons.

A great example of an effect which can be used to achieve numerous end results is delay.

Here are three great videos from Point Blank Online, each showing a very different way in which delay can make you music sound far more polished.

Creating variety and building a sense of anticipation using 'ping pong' delays  

The 'ping pong' delay is a real favourite of mine.  It's simple but effective.  As the name suggests, a signal is bounced back and forth from left to right or vice versa.  Here, Johnny Miller uses the effect to add variety to a snare hit.  

In my opinion, when he sets the effect to hit on beat, it creates a nice sense of variety.  When he sets the delay onto off beat it creates not only variety, but a sense of anticipation.  Watch the video below and let me know what you think afterwards.  Johnny also touches on compression some more. 

Using staggered delay to create the perception of width: 'The Haas Effect'.

Here, Johnny Miller shows how staggered delay can be used to create the perception of width.  By copying a track or a sound, panning one copy to either side and introducing a delay of miliseconds, the brain percieves stereo width in what is known as 'The Haas Effect'.

Using delay to create an atmospheric dub loop.

Another popular use of delay is explored in this video, where a dub style feedback loop with lashings of delay creates a very atmospheric and exciting build up.  

A word of warning: as Nick explains, this technique will easily have the volume get out of hand which can lead to burst speakers and eardrums (seriously) so use a limiter to keep the volume in check.  If you do not know how to use a limitier yet, come back to this video and try this technique once you do. 


Distortion is another widely used effect, with more uses than you may think.

Firstly, an example of what may first spring to mind when you hear the word 'distortion'.  The classic heavy metal guitar.  This video by Auryn Studios gives a great example.  Even better, he is using a free VST, the much loved 8505 Lead guitar amp VST by Nick Crow, which is downloadable here.

Nowadays, however, distortion is used on everything from drums to synth leads, many times to give them more 'oomph'.  The use of distortion can be anything from very subtle to completely OTT, however this can easily result in lots of 'clipping' and quickly become unlistenable.

Here is a video by software manufacturer FabFilter, showing off their product, Saturn.  Whilst it is obviously focuses on their piece of kit the video is also a good little introduction to various types of distortion.


Here's a two part video from the ultra - useful and always watchable Pensado's Place, with super mixing engineer Dave Pensado.  Dave first introduces the meaning of distortion, before moving onto examples of how to use distortion on vocals, kick drums and synths in part 1.  


Below, he uses tracks from his friend, west coast rap production legend E A Ski, to continue this great tutorial.


More effects coming soon.


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