Audio effects have taken the world of music by storm. Artists have been given a new ‘instrument’ to create unique sounds, and people enjoy listening to them.
If you listen closely to pop music, you can’t find a song without audio effects.
But what effects are commonly used in popular music, you might think?
The most commonly used effects in the pop genre are reverb, delay, flanger, chorus, equalizer, compressor, and distortion.
Stick along to learn how those effects alter the recorded sound and why they are used in pop music.
Many audio effects are available today, and they are categorized according to how they manipulate sound.
- Time-based audio effects: Delay, Reverb, and Echo
- Modulation audio effects: Tremolo, Flanger, Chorus, and Phaser
- Spectral audio effects: Panning and Equalization
- Dynamic audio effects: Compression and distortion
Each category deserves an article on its own, but since today’s topic is popular music, we’ll highlight the seven effects most commonly used in that genre.
Reverb is an effect used to create the feeling of spaciousness, and it unifies the sound giving you a more blended mix.
When you apply reverb to an audio signal, you stimulate reverberation. Think of it as an echo that continues to scatter everywhere.
It’s like you’ve placed a particular sound in a physical space.
Waves then start to bounce off that space so quickly, creating reverberation.
So if you’ve recorded an instrument, you can adjust the sound to make it seem as if it is right in front of you or far in the back.
The reverb is great for mixing vocals and guitar. However, you can experiment with different instruments as well.
Delay is an effect that records an input signal to a storage medium and then plays back delayed duplicates creating an echo-like effect.
With reverb, you create an echo by adding physical space in which the waves can reflect, but with delay, you have copies of the signal, which you then play back at a desired time to emulate an echo effect.
If you want to add ‘space to the sound,’ you should use reverb, but if you feel it’s muddying the mix, use delay.
Do not think of this as a golden rule but a tip for starters.
The flanger effect is achieved by blending an original (or source) audio signal with a slightly modified, delayed version of itself.
For example, you have two copies of the same audio signal. But one copy is delayed by less than 20 milliseconds, which means it’s out of phase with the other copy.
Adding a flanger to your audio signal gives you a more eerie, metallic sound.
If you play the guitar, chances are you’ve already used a flanger.
It can give the instrument a retro, old-time feel and a harsh and metallic sound.
The Flanger effect is not subtle; you can create a pretty crazy sound by adding it to your mix.
The chorus effect is today’s music production’s most popular phase modulation effect.
When you use a chorus effect, you create multiple copies of an original audio signal, varying the pitch and mixing those modulated copies with the original signal.
The result is a thick and more fulfilling sound, which can give your mix an epic feeling.
For instance, if you want multiple trumpets (or flutes, violins, etc.).
Instead, you can split your trumpet audio signal into any number you need for the same audio experience.
This effect is mainly used on the guitar, but it’s great when applied to any other aspect of recorded sound.
Equalization or Equalizer
Equalization is an effect that controls the volume of the audio frequency spectrum.
It’s one of the essential audio effects and the key to a good mix.
When you record a set of instruments, you won’t have to worry about one instrument ‘interfering’ with the other.
An equalizer gives each instrument its position or space to breathe and be heard how you want it to.
Compressors are used to reduce the span between the quietest parts and the loudest parts.
It helps you keep a steady volume throughout the mix, which is vital if you want a professional-sounding recording.
A compressor amplifies the quiet sounds and attenuates the loud sounds.
It controls the dynamic range and creates a more homogenous sound.
The compressor helps bring everything closer together if you have a scattered sound.
Distortion is the most commonly used effect for electric guitars, bass, piano, or synthesizers.
It alters the sound by increasing their gain.
As a result, you end up with a more growling, gritty tone, which is highly popular in many genres of today’s music, including pop.
In some cases, you may also get unwanted distortion.
That happens when a particular signal is too strong, and the system can’t ‘cope’ with it.
You can use a compressor with distortion to balance this out.
And there you have it—seven most commonly used audio effects in popular music.
Each effect provides a unique twist to existing soundtracks.
Try them all out. And remember to experiment and enjoy playing with the sound you create using these effects.