You never know when a silly VST plugin might inspire a beat that turns around and earns you millions of dollars. One of our favorite success stories comes from a vocal synthesis plugin by AudioNerdz called Delay Lama. As you may have guessed, the VST is named after the Tibetan Dalai Lama and is a pun on the concept of stereo delay.
The Delay Lama interface shows a 3D animated singing Tibetan monk that responds to your track in real-time. It can be used as a VST instrument to control the MIDI pitch, vowel sound (oo-ah-ee) and delay parameters. You can also control the melody directly from the piano roll, by assigning the VST to a software instrument track, or use your MIDI keyboard’s pitch bender wheel.
AudioNerdz only released one version of the app, but it developed a cult following. In this article we’ll tell the story of how Delay Lama became a trending VSTi and left its mark on pop culture. We'll also share some tips on how to load it in a DAW.
How Delay Lama generated over 1 billion streams
So here’s the story in a nutshell... Back in 2014, an Australian artist Timmy Trumpet wrote a track called Freaks that featured a short melodic hook made with Delay Lama. He brought New Zealand rapper Savage onto the track and together they produced the highest selling single of all time for Australia’s Ministry of Sound. The song has exceeded one billion streams across YouTube and Spotify.
This isn’t the first time vocal synthesis has been used in a hit song. But something about the melodic line and the tone of that buddhist monk synthesizer was a recipe for success. Could it be that the playful nature of the Delay Lama plugin rubbed off on the Timmy Trumpet and his audience?
Later in 2014, a short meme called When Mom Isn’t Home went viral. It featured a dad playing the Freaks melody on a trombone while his son slammed the oven door to keep the beat. That short video remix gained more than 100 million views and that dad went on to become the music director for the New England Conservatorium.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Delay Lama, a music video game called Friday Night Funkin released a version update that included the plugin’s design. Think of it as a fresh take on Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution.
Using Delay Lama in Modern DAWs
Delay Lama is more than 20 years old and has not received any updates. This means that music producers who operate DAWs like Ableton 10/11 will need to convert the VSTi from 32-bit to 64-bit with a tool like jBridge. You can find similar instructions for loading 32-bit plugins on Logic Pro X here. FL Studio still supports 32-bit and it tends to be the DAW of choice for people who use Delay Lama.
If the idea of fussing with a 32-bit VST doesn’t appeal to you, we do have some other options you can explore. We’ve written extensively on the use of free text-to-speech apps like Uberduck and how you can apply melodies to them with free a free autotune plugin. Just find a voice you like and you can generate vowel sounds using words like “oh” “ah” “ee” and so forth.
Weird VSTs: Delay Lama Vs MEOWSynth
Weird VSTs have continued to grow in popularity over the years. Some youtubers have gone so far as to pitch vocal synths like MEOWSynth against Delay Lama in a musical to the death!
MeowSynth offers a few more audio parameters but let's be honest. It's mostly there to give you happy feelings and inspired silly meme songs. In the video below, Levi Niha delivers yet another classic video on this weird VST.
If you want to take the VST weirdness to even greater heights, try creating melodies with AudioCipher and passing them through a vocal synthesizer. The app comes with both melody and chord progression generator options. Then you can assign the vocal synth to your instrument track to give them a voice.
Unlike Delay Lama, AudioCipher's latest version is 64-bit and was released in December 2022, which means it works in almost every DAW. Learn more about it on our homepage.
Delay Lama was a tribute to the Dalai Lama
According to the AudioNerdz website, Delay Lama was created as a special project during an Audio Design course they were taking. They make it clear on their VST instrument’s landing page that they hope users will visit www.savetibet.org and make a donation by credit card to the non-profit organization.
I've personally met a few Tibetan monks in my life. One of my writing mentors was a devotee of Khenpo Tsewang, a practicing Tibetan buddhist who runs a monetary in New York. I found them to be down to earth and easy to talk to. For those who aren't familiar with the lineage, here's a quick overview.
Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in Tibet and neighboring countries in Asia. It’s based on the teachings of the Buddha, who said that the path to inner peace and enlightenment lies in understanding the true nature of reality and developing compassion for all human beings.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and is considered to be a reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. He was born in Tibet and fled to India in 1959 after the Chinese government took control of Tibet and suppressed Tibetan culture and religion.
The Dalai Lama has been based in Dharamsala, India, since his exile, and he has worked to promote human rights, nonviolence, and religious harmony around the world. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his efforts to peacefully resist Chinese rule in Tibet and promote human rights and democracy.
Despite his spiritual leadership, the Dalai Lama is also seen as the head of state and government in exile by many Tibetans. The Ganden Tripa, or "throne-holder" of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, serves as the acting head of the school in the absence of the Dalai Lama.
In recent years, the Chinese government has continued to assert control over Tibet and has faced criticism for its treatment of Tibetan Buddhists and its efforts to suppress Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama has called for dialogue with the Chinese government and has advocated for the preservation of Tibetan culture within the People's Republic of China.
Final thoughts on Delay Lama's success
It seems that Delay Lama's popularity comes down the silliness of the interface, despite being designed around a legitimate spiritual lineage. It's hard to say whether the plugin's output is directly responsible for Timmy Trumpet's success with Freaks. But one thing you'll find as you explore YouTube reviews of DL is how much joy it inspires in the people who used it. I think the takeaway here is that it's important to have fun in the DAW - a playful spirit can lead to great things!