Reverb in the mix

How you use reverbs in your mix to some extent will depend on the musical style, your mixing philosophy and your outboard and DSP resources. Commonly, where resources are relatively limited, perhaps two different reverbs might be used - one mainly with the drum kit in mind and the other for the vocal. If realism is a factor then you might use only one since all . members of a band would generally perform in the same acoustic space. In practice, if you have the processing power, a variety of reverb choices can work well on different areas of your mix.

Drums and percussion

Generally drums and percussion are close miced these days so you will need to add reverb of some kind. The simplest approach is to pick a single reverb and use it on the whole kit in differing amounts. This works best if you use a short reverb setting and leave the kick dry or almost dry. If you have recorded room mics the quality of the sound you're getting back from these may affect your choice of reverb setting. If you are applying different reverbs to the separate parts of the kit the Mowing guidelines may help. To avoid creating a mushy low end, do not add any obvious reverb to a kick drum. Use a short ambient setting if it is necessary to add anything at all. Snare drums generally benefit from more reverb. Plate settings can be good as they're bright and don't produce such distinct early reflections as real spaces. Reverb times for snares can be anything from less than a second to more than 3 seconds but it makes sense to avoid using a long decay time unless the music contains enough space for it to be heard. Generally speaking, the faster or denser the music the shorter the reverb tine should be. This will avoid cluttering the mix. Short bright plates or tiled room ambiences can give breathe life into a dull snare or if you're looking for a bigger sound try a hall patch and adjust the pre-delay to give a slap back feel. Toms tend to have a long natural sustain so they don't necessarily benefit from much reverb but a short ambience setting can give them that elusive sense of place. A little ambience is also good for high hats just to give a sense of three dimensional space and lo add some extra high frequency detail. Percussion generally sounds best with just a short ambience-type setting as these are quite dense and tend to reinforce and fatten the sound.

Vocals

The lead vocal reverb is perhaps one of the most important settings in a mix. A vocal drenched in reverb will sound awful and a completely dry one unnatural and disassociated from the music. A very wet vocal sound can reduce the intelligibility of the lyrics and long decay times can fill up space in the mix unnecessarily. Generally speaking in pop and rock mixes we want the vocal to be very "up front". Adding a lot of reverb will create the impression of distance — the opposite of what we are looking for. Short reverb and even ambience settings can be pretty successful especially if you add a little pre-delay of between 50 and 80ms to separate the vocal and the reverb. If you are looking for a reverb tail to add a little extra sheen to the vocal try a small hall or chamber but increase the early reflections balance so that the reverb tail doesn't dominate.

Backing vocals are often meant to sit a little behind the lead vocal so longer reverb times are not necessarily a problem here. If you want to thicken the sound a little a setting with obvious early reflections can help.

Guitars

Distorted guitars playing heavy chords don't generally benefit from much reverb. This may depend on how they're recorded. Sometimes, with amped guitars recorded in a live room, engineers also take a room mic recording, for ambience. However, solo and clean electric sounds and acoustics are a different matter. This very much depends on the style of music. Spring reverbs as we have seen can be used to recreate that classic 'amp sound and large bright halls can work if you're after that big sustaining solo guitar sound. Ambience settings are again good for acoustics - adding space and brightness without cluttering the sound with a long reverb tail. Short plates can also be good for this.

[box type="info"] Less is more: In today's musical climate very obvious reverb is not always required. Often what people want is a sound that has life and dimensionality without an obvious reverb tail — in effect almost a 'reverb without the reverb'. This can apply to both band music and dance music, especially the latter where beats are often very dry and clipped. This is why ambience settings can be useful as they create the early reflections of a natural space but without the long decay times. Thus they reinforce and add solidarity to the sound without obviously smothering it. The sense of space is achieved and the sounds sit more comfortably in the mix, whilst a clean and clear sound is maintained.[/box]

 

Summary

  1. Reverb is a natural phenomenon and part of the way we habitually perceive sound.
  2. AU enclosed spaces create reverb as sound waves are multiplied by reflection, and diffraction.
  3. The frequency content of reflected sound waves is modified by the size, shape and absorptive characteristics of the room and its contents.
  4. Adding reverb is an essential part of the mixing process. It will breathe life into your mix but don't over do it and choose appropriate settings.
  5. Early attempts to recreate reverb included echo chambers, tape delays, plate reverbs, and spring reverbs.
  6. These were superseded by the advent of digital reverbs in the 80s. Such digital reverbs are now highly sophisticated and afford the user a huge amount of control over the reverberant sound.
  7. Convolution or "sampling" reverbs are becoming an increasingly realistic prospect for users of DAWs in home and project studios. These effectively place the dry sound into a "real" space through the application of Impulse Responses recorded in those "real" spaces. They have fewer controllable parameters than conventional digital reverbs but sound highly convincing.
  8. As a general rule of thumb, with reverb, less is often more. If you're worried about making your mix too wet choose presets with short decays and/or add just a small amount.

Cover photo by Saigo Caltroine