Low Quality Sounds Good?

As audio equipment has changed over the years, so has the ability to produce higher quality sounds. When I say higher quality, I mean less background noise (white noise), or just more realistic, or normal sounding audio. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a cheap microphone, but often they tend to make your voice fuzzy, muted, and there is a lot of extra, often unwanted noise. This Lo-Fi (low fidelity or low quality audio) sound, just like with old TV shows, video games, or T-shirts has become retro. It has become a recognizable sound that is used all over in the music world, and there are whole genres built around Lo-Fi music. Another example of lower quality sounds being used is rock with it’s distorted (extreme audio clipping) guitars. Here are two ways to incorporate lower quality sounds to actually enhance a song and not detract from it if done right.

The first is, as I mentioned, distortion on a guitar. Probably everyone who listens to music has heard a distorted guitar at some point, and equates that sound as what a normal guitar sounds like not realizing it’s an audio effect. Here is a song that I made with distorted guitar in it: On the Horizon (from my Neon Mist album). One thing to keep in mind is that it is easy to over do the distortion and drown everything else out which might not always be what you’re going for.

Another low fidelity effect is a Vinyl emulator. It just adds the crackle and pop of a vinyl record as nice background sounds. A song I made with this Lo-Fi sound is: H2O (from my Chill Zone album).

Delay Changes Atmosphere?

Now I’m sure you’re probably wondering what the difference is between echo and delay, but trust me there is a difference. Echo forms a train of delayed sounds, whereas delay gives you complete control over how much delay, and unless you use different channels it will only delays once. It really gives you a more hands on control of what happens to the sound, and there are some cool things you can do with it. Here is a dry demo that I will change later to show the effects of delay.

Dry Delay Demo Track

Here is a fun little trick using delay to change the stereo feeling of a sound. I just set one channel to have slightly higher delay than the other, and came out with this closet feeling.

Muffled Delay Demo Track

The reason why it works is because in given natural environments sound bounces back from different places, some further away, causing the audio to be more delayed. This, in a way, emulates that natural effect, and it changes the atmosphere of the sound.

Here I used a different delay effect and did the same thing with different levels of delay and came out with this tin can feeling.

Tin Can Delay Demo Track

Just from messing with differing levels of delay I found it changed the feeling of the environment many different ways, which makes sense, because different rooms and landscapes have their own unique sound delays off of different objects reflecting the audio. The delay effect is certainly one of the more versatile effects when it comes to creating an environment.

Echo Effect

I think most of us have at one point or another yelled in a large building or tunnel and heard our voice echo. This effect will add that kind of sound to your music, and if timed properly, it can greatly enhance the overall feel.

Here is a little demonstration of the echo effect. This is a little beat I made with a boring chord section.

Demo No Echo

So, the chord section is too basic. Now, I could go and repeat the notes, or change their velocity, but I just added the Guitarix echo plugin.

Demo With Echo

As you can tell, that echo really adds to the chord section. The Guitarix plugin had two inputs. One was the release time which changes how long it will repeat for. The other input was the time which just changes how fast or how slow it echos. With just a little playing around you can get your instruments echoing in no time.

Chorus Effect

Another key effect that is used in many different types of music is chorus. Chorus takes the main signal and changes the pitch up or down to create a fuller, shimmery sound, kind of like playing a single note versus a whole chord. You could create multiple tracks with different pitches, but chorus effects are built to properly mix the sounds so nothing sounds off key.

Chances are that any of those shimmery guitar songs you have heard had some chorus in there. This effect tied with some reverb and a flanger produces that classic guitar vibe.

Here are two little bits of guitar I recorded. I added plate reverb to both, but the first has no chorus. Try to see if you can tell the difference.

Guitar Snippet With No Chorus

Here is the same track with reverb, only some chorus was added to make it complete.

Guitar Snippet With Chorus

Reverb Plugin

Reverb is undoubtedly one of the key basic plugins for music production, but there are some key things to know about it before you go slapping it on every track. There are multiple types of reverb plugins that emulate different types of rooms or represent different ways to artificially add reverb to a track.

Here is a little guitar snippet that I recorded so we can see the differences in each reverb type. This signal was passed through the same effect pedal but the reverb level was set to 0% meaning there was no reverb added.

Guitar Snippet Dry

Here is the Behringer digital reverb pedal that I used to get all these different reverb samples. Of course there are VST, AU, and LADSPA reverb plugins, but this was an easy all in one for me.

Behringer Reverb Pedal

The first one I’ll talk about it hall reverb. As the name suggests, it is meant to emulate the sound of a concert hall or theater. Hall reverb often makes the sound go on for a lot longer (long decay time). Hall reverb is often added to strings or pads to add a higher level of richness to them.

This is what that guitar snippet sounds like with a hall reverb at 50% reverb level. (All the rest of the reverb samples have the same reverb level.)

Guitar Snippet w/ Hall Reverb

The second key type is a spring reverb. This reverb isn’t meant to emulate a real life place, but it is artificial by design. Spring reverb is often used in guitar amplifiers, making it great for, you guessed it, guitars. This one is characterized by a warm, richness.

This is what that guitar snippet sounds like with a spring reverb.

Guitar Snippet w/ Spring Reverb

Another artificial reverb type is a plate reverb. The sounds produced are often bright and clean. This can help cut through the mix more than some of the other types of reverb making it good for vocals and some drum tracks.

This is what that guitar snippet sounds like with a plate reverb.

Guitar Snippet w/ Plate Reverb

And last but certainly not least is the room reverb. This type tries to emulate the sound of a smaller room, such as a studio, and produces a more realistic sounding reverb effect. This reverb is great for any track, and is really useful for more up close in your face sounds.

This is what that guitar snippet sounds like with a room reverb.

Guitar Snippet w/ Room Reverb

Have fun experimenting with different types of reverb on your tracks, and don’t feel confined to only using one type of reverb on certain tracks. The key thing to remember with reverb is not to over do it.