How to Use Long Delay for Looping

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Electronic musicians approach looping in a variety of ways.

Looping samples and phrases is one of the foundations of electronic music and related genres. Although non-delay looping mechanisms have been available since the 1980s, looping was originally achieved using long delay devices such as the Paradis LoopDelay. In essence, the delay effect is a synthetic echo that repeats the input sound in adjustable increments over time. Most software delay plug-ins are able to reproduce this effect, depending on the availability of certain parameters.


    • 1

      Launch your audio recording and editing application of choice. Applications of this type are often called “sequencers” or “digital audio workstations.” Examples include Apple’s Logic and GarageBand, Avid’s Pro Tools and Steinberg’s Cubase. Free applications include Ardour and Audacity. If the application doesn’t include a native delay plug-in, a compatible third-party delay plug-in, such as PSP’s 608 MD or Waves’ SuperTap, must be used.

    • 2

      Record the phrase you want to loop. If it already exists, load it into an empty track in your sequencer.

    • 3

      Load, or “instantiate,” the delay plug-in on the track. In most cases, there will be effect insert slots clearly associated with each track. They will be located on the track header or, in the case of most professional-level sequencers, on the track’s channel strip.

    • 4

      Determine the exact length of the phrase to be looped in milliseconds or beats. The delay time setting on most delay plug-ins is measured in milliseconds, but some have a delay time setting based on musical time signatures. Because timing is of utmost importance in music production, all sequencers have some way to easily determine the exact length of a phrase. It’s necessary to know the exact length of the phrase because an incorrect delay time will result in a loop that falls slightly out of time with each repetition.

    • 5

      Open the delay plug-in’s interface. Delay plug-ins vary considerably, but all will have settings for delay time, feedback and mix. Delay time refers to the length of the repeated signal and is usually measured in milliseconds; feedback refers to the length of time that will pass before the repeated signal begins to dissipate. Some plug-ins also include a sync function which, when engaged, will sync the delay to the time signature of the overall track in accordance with a user-defined musical interval, such as an eighth note.

    • 6

      Set the delay time to the exact length of the phrase to be looped.

    • 7

      Set the feedback time to 50 percent.

    • 8

      Solo the track. In most cases, there will be a Solo button on the track’s track header or channel strip. The solo function will mute all other tracks in the project, unless their respective solo function is also engaged.

    • 9

      Play the track. If the delay time is correctly established, you will hear the phrase loop. Continue listening until the loop dissipates and fades out completely. If the loop did not last as long as you want, increase the feedback parameter by 10 percent and play the track a second time. At 100 percent, the phrase will be looped infinitely; at 0 percent, it will loop only once. Because delay plug-ins are rarely used for looping purposes, they rarely include a more precise way to adjust the feedback. Experiment with different feedback settings until you get the number of repetitions you want.

    • 10

      Use the delay plug-in’s mix function to adjust the sound quality of the repetitions. A higher mix setting will cause the repetitions to be louder and more like the original phrase; lower settings will cause the loop to be quieter and more distorted.

    • 11

      Bounce the track when you are happy with the long delay looping effect. “Bouncing” refers to the process of converting the track as heard at the output into an independent audio file. Not all sequencers include a bounce function, but it is useful for minimizing the overall track’s burden on your computer’s CPU and RAM.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many delay plug-ins have many controllable parameters besides the standard ones described. High- and low-pass filters and distortion controls are common. Although the delay time and feedback functions will be your chief concern, experimenting with your delay plug-in's other functionality can reveal new creative possibilities.

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