Check out these quick and easy tips to help refine the use of reverb within your productions.
HIGH PASS FILTER REVERB RETURNS
Reverb return tracks should be high-pass filtered to remove any low frequency content. The low frequency area of our mix should only really include the Kick and bass parts unless we are using reverb in a specific way as a bass sound, which is a common technique in genres such as techno.
If we don’t filter the low frequency content of all our reverb returns they will eat up valuable headroom, as well as reducing the perceived power of our low frequency parts. Try using a shelving filter at around 2-300Hz to remove these unwanted low frequencies. A high cut may also work, but could introduce phase issues.
One step further from high-pass filtering reverb return tracks would be to band-pass filter them so that they only operate within an exact frequency range. This can reduce unnecessary clutter and mud whilst still conveying a sense of space and depth to any given part.
USE OF OTHER SPATIAL EFFECTS
Not all elements in our mix will need reverb. Some may sound absolutely fine as they are, whereas others may benefit from echo or delay instead. Using echo and delay effects on parts such as vocals can help to create a powerful and precise feeling of depth without the need to swamp the mix in dense reverb.
Delays and echoes come in many different shapes and sizes and can be used to great effect when automated or used in conjunction with a side-chained compressor. Try using a ½, ¼ or 1/8th note delay on the last syllable of a vocal phrase, this is known as a ‘delay throw’.
Other delays that are commonly used are slap-back delays, which also work well on vocals and guitars. These will usually require a notch EQ around the 2-6KHz range to remove some of the intelligibility from the delayed signal, so there isn’t a distinct doubling effect of the vocal.
Finally we can use micro-delays with little to no feedback. (causing only one repeat) These work well on percussive elements such as hats and shakers to give a nice depth and rhythmical effect without adding a long decay to the signal.
TEST IN SOLO AND IN CONTEXT
Check how the reverberated signals sound at every level, starting with individual hits, then working up to groups, then finally the overall mix.
Just because the drum and vocal groups are working well independently doesn’t necessarily mean that the two summed together are going to sound good. If there is a noticeable loss of clarity when monitored in context then there is likely to be masking issues between the two groups that will need addressing. Also bear in mind that the bypass button can be used to check that our processing is having a beneficial effect on the track.
LESS IS MORE
It’s very easy to overdo reverb at the mixing stage. Whilst things can be done to add reverb to a dry mix, It’s nearly impossible to salvage a mix that’s been drenched in reverb. For this reason, try not to go too crazy when using this effect. Use the technique of backing the reverb dry/wet off slightly once you’ve found the sweet spot.
The reason we do this is because once all of these different reverbs have been cumulatively summed together at the track, group and sub-mix level and gone through all the different processors, there’s a fairly good chance that they will be a lot more prominent in the mix than we had first anticipated, due to processing such as saturation and compression.
This commonly recurring theme will pop up time and time again and is no exception here. Having a good set of reference tracks pulled into our DAW on individual tracks allows us to quickly make A-B comparisons between them and our own work to ensure that we don’t lose sight of how we want our track to sound.
MID/SIDE AND TRANSIENT PROCESSING
Having sharp transients in the side content of our mix can confuse the listener’s perception of the stereo image. Reverb and other effects tend to work better at the sides of the mix, so if we find that we have a lot of confusion going on in these areas, then try placing a transient shaping plugin before the reverb returns to dull the attack transients down before they reach the input of the reverb.
REVERB DECAY DOES NOT EQUAL SIZE OF ROOM
A common trap for producers that are new to using reverb is to assume that increasing the decay of a sound will make the sound larger or further away. To some extent it can achieve this, however we know that a tiny room with highly reflective surfaces can easily have just as long of a decay time as a cathedral. We can achieve this size perception by other methods such as pre-delay and early reflections, which will ensure our track’s punchiness stays intact.
In most cases our sends will be set to post fader. This means that the send level is relative to the level of the track fader. However, we can also use large reverbs for atmospherics, by putting sounds such as pads through them ‘pre-fader’, which allows us to pull the original tracks fader right the way down whilst still sending to the reverb channel. This can also be achieved by selecting ‘send only’.
This will give us a purely wet reverberated signal, which can be further processed to work as a background atmosphere or pad.
The signal flow for Pre & Post fader sends
DEPTH USING COMPRESSION
Compression can be used in conjunction with reverb to place a sound at a given point along the front to rear dimension of a mix.
Fast attack settings will push transients down, causing a sound to be pushed back in the mix.
Slower attack times accentuate punchy transients, bringing a part upfront in the mix.
Fast release times will push up the sustain (dependent on threshold settings) helping it to have attitude and stay upfront for a ‘in your face’ type feeling.
Slow release times tame the sustain and release portion of a signal so that it naturally eases off, pushing the sound further back into the mix.
PANNING REVERB FOR STEREO WIDTH
Reverb can be used as a tool to give mono parts a greater stereo width. This can either be achieved by using a stereo reverb or by panning the reverb to a different position to that of the original signal. Caution must be taken to not get too carried away with the pan settings which might ruin the integrity of the space your trying to create.
Reverb Pre-delay settings can sometimes cause the early reflections and original signal to create a flam effect if used at settings greater than 30ms. We can adjust pre-delay time to enhance the rhythm in our track by making sure it is matched to a sub-division of our tempo. Not only can this add a rhythmical element to the track but it can also help to disguise any obvious reverb transients if large pre-delay times are used.