The chorus effect sometimes gets a bad rap; people associate it with over-indulgent '80s guitar sounds and tend to steer well clear. However, using it subtly and it can become a surprisingly versatile mixing tool. In this article, we offer a few ideas of how to incorporate chorus into your mix.
If you use the chorus as a send effect, it can be used to widen a mix element subtly. This effect relies on you using a chorus plug-in that allows you to alter the left and right channels independently.
By choosing different settings on each side, we create the impression of width. This tends to work best when the feedback and depth are both kept pretty low, and the strength of the widening will depend on how much of the dry signal you send to the effect.
When you are recording a vocal, it is generally a good idea to record a 'double-track' as well, an identical performance of the same vocal that will add richness and depth to the vocal sound. On some occasions, you may, however, be asked to mix a track where there is only a single vocal take. Some subtle chorus here can give you the thicker kind of sound that doubling provides.
This is not an ideal solution for a lead vocal but can be a useful fix. This can be a valuable technique for backing vocals, though – it helps to set them back a bit further in the mix and creates the impression that they are more deeply layered.
As above, the keyword here is 'subtle'! Just a touch of chorus can add a little polish and richness to a dull sound, perhaps an organ, some synth strings, or an acoustic guitar. The busier your mix, the more chorus you can get away with without it being obvious; if your mix is sparse, you should be very careful with this effect.
You don't generally want your instruments to sound 'chorusy'; you just want to add a little shine to them. Experiment with settings, but a good starting point would be a modulation depth of around 10%, a mod rate of between 0.1 and 10Hz, very low feedback, and a delay time between 20 and 80ms. Depending on how busy your mix is, your wet level can be set anywhere between 20 and 70%.
As we alluded to on tip 2, the chorus effect can sit elements further back in your mix. Chorus has the effect of making sounds slightly less distinct, and this makes us experience them as being further away. Of course, this effect is not always beneficial - you may not be willing to lose mix clarity. However, used smartly, this aspect of chorus can be a very helpful mix tool.
Mixing is all about separating elements out into different spaces, and chorus can be incredibly useful for pushing certain elements into the background, which by extension, will push other things into the foreground.
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