Welcome to the unannounced bastard child of my old and golden tutorial, How the Hell do I Use Reverb Anyway?!? If you need a primer on the basics of reverb, I highly recommend you read that one before you jump into this one. It goes over everything you need to know about reverb: all the knobs and buttons you need to familiarize yourself with.
Instead of continuing on with the theory that you can read in the previous tutorial, I'm going to jump into some easy to use reverb tricks that can really help you in your mixes. We'll be looking at some simple, but invaluable tips to using reverb effectively without cluttering up your instruments.
Sometimes you just want a little depth to your voice so you choose a small or a short reverb preset. Something like a “bathroom” or a “small vocal plate” can probably be found in any reverb engine. However, sometimes these reverbs are just a little too close. They're still the ideal size, you don't want any big tails or anything like, but the reverb seems to get in the way.
Pre-delay really comes in handy when you need to separate the voice from the reverb to get more clarity. It's exactly as it sounds. It just delays the reverb for the amount of milliseconds you want it to.
Using pre-delay comes in handy when you really like the sound of a particular reverb but it just gets in the way of the vocal or instrument you're sending it to. Since it delays the reverb from coming through for a few milliseconds the effect is similar to if you were to take the walls of your imagined reverb space and just pushed them out a little bit, making them bigger.
Take this vocal part for example. It's a bathroom preset that gives the voice some space but it also gets in the way of the vocal.
Now, with the same reverb but with an added 40 ms pre-delay the reverb doesn't get quite so much in the way.
The reverb's a bit loud but I think you can hear the difference and the point I'm making.
Mixing and Matching Reverbs on Drums
Dry drums are really hard to listen to. They get in the way of the rest of the track so they always need some reverb. The only exception can be the kick drum, but it's fine to add some to the kick to give it some space as well.
The snare is definitely one of those instrument in the drum kit that can get a different treatment than the others. Adding an overall reverb to the drums as well as a separate reverb just for the snare can give the drum kit an extra dimension to it.
This trick can also work if you want to separate the snare from the forefront while still keeping the drums punchy. Like if you have a very dense track and the snare is getting in the way, you can add a different reverb to the snare to push it back without pushing the whole drum kit away.
For example, here's a full drum kit, around five microphones grouped to a submix with some compression on it. It's completely dry except for the small amount of room sound.
It's fine on its own but we will need to push it back when we add other instruments. The best way to do that is with reverb so I've added a hall reverb to all of the drums.
Aside: Since the kick drum is a part of the reverb as well, I've filtered the low-end out of the reverb up to about 150-200 Hz to reduce the boomy clutter that can result from a reverbed kick drum.
Here's the kit with the hall reverb.
And now, just to make the snare pop out a little more, let's add some plate reverb to only the snare.
Now, this is a subtle difference, and the snare is also going to the hall reverb. But if you wanted, you could get a completely different snare space from the rest of the drum kit. Countless records have been produced where the snare sound is completely different from the rest of the drums, even though they were recorded in the same room and not done electronically.
Using a different space can either accent the snare or help you push it back.
The Importance of the Volume Fader
This might seem very simple advice to many of you, but it bears repeating. Just switching on a reverb in a aux channel on full blast is not enough. That volume fader on the reverb is there for a reason. You can switch endlessly through reverb presets without finding anything useful if you don't tame the volume of the actual reverb.
A reverb that's too loud is always going to sound bad unless it's for a particular effect. A really overwhelming reverb patch can sound terrible on full blast, but if you tweak the volume a little bit, lowering it just so that it's underneath the original signal, it'll give you a completely different feel.
Here's an example. Percussion, even fast percussion like in the following sample, can benefit from a little reverb. But since it's a very fast and rhythmic part you need to be careful not to overdo it.
So you can flip through your presets ad nauseam without ever finding anything because everything's going to sound like this:
However, people tend to forget that the volume fader can be one of their best friends. Even if that reverb patch sounds like a jumbled mess right now, that's just because the volume is way too loud for that sort of instrument.
Turning it down to a more usable level we get this:
So next time you can't find a decent reverb, check to see if your reverb volume is at a workable level.
So that's it for this selection of reverb tips. If you've been struggling with reverb cluttering up your vocals, how to make your snare stand out or just managing the amount of reverb in your mixes, I hope this tutorial taught you something.