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within a mix is near enough mandatory. However, it's incredibly easy to
overcook a mix with ambience, even though modern mixes are increasingly
becoming less reverb heavy.
Using reverb effectively can take a mix - and the song - to another level. But with many productions becoming increasingly busy and complex, the crucial space for this near-essential effect can become difficult to navigate.
In this tutorial we’ll look at various ways you can creatively optimize your use of reverb, particularly in productions which may prove otherwise tricky.
We’ll use a short drum passage to demonstrate some of the ideas within this tutorial:
1. Learn the Rules…
One of the most universal or commonly known reverb “rules” is to avoid inserting a single reverb on each individual track or channel.
Not only is this incredibly computer-processor-hungry, you won’t do your mix any great favors, layering reverb on top of reverb, on top of reverb, and so on! (And if you’re working out-of-the-box, unless you have stacks of reverb racks this becomes fairly impossible anyway.)
Here the drum part with reverb inserted onto each individual track.
As you can hear, the part is almost immediately swamped, and would certainly not fit well within a mix when other components are pulled in.
This is an over-the-top example, but serves well. There are only six tracks (kick, snare, ride, OH, and two room mics) within this project. Imagine what could happen to a project with 30 tracks!
The usual solution is to set up an auxiliary/effects track and send/bus any tracks you wish to be processed by the reverb. In other words, any tracks within the mix can now be sent to simply one individual reverb. This is almost a direct replication of older desk mixes, and keeps the reverb in your mix clean, tight and under control.
Here is the passage again, with the same reverb. However, we have now set up an auxiliary track for this reverb, and have controlled the sends from each track to the one reverb itself:
There is clearly a lot of reverb in this mix, but it is now manageable, and ready for further processing.
2. Then Break the Rules!
Although this process is extremely common and effective (and for good reason), you may limit your creativity by sticking to just one general reverb throughout your entire mix. Now you have set up an overall reverb sound, there is room to think creatively about adding additional reverb to individual elements of this particular drum kit part.
Many acts want their snare drum to “punch” through the mix, so, for example, let’s take a look at adding a separate reverb insert solely on the snare drum track, in addition to the general reverb we added earlier.
Here is the drum passage, with the “general” reverb, and a now separate reverb placed solely on the snare drum channel:
Now the snare really pokes through! Although this is deliberately over-the-top for demonstration purposes, with mixes that need a snare to poke through, creatively using reverb in this way can really begin to enhance your mix.
3. Process to Focus
Now that we’ve used multiple reverbs within this mix, it’s crucial to make sure the mix doesn’t get swamped. Avoiding this can be both a tricky and delicate process, so play around and be creative with these three ideas:
Take the Bus!
If you bus the extra reverbs to an auxiliary track, rather than placing them directly on the channel as an insert, you have more freedom to customize the individual reverb itself. However be careful of track count, you can find your project gets wildly out of control this way.
Many reverb plugins have their own in built settings and you can usually customize the effect to a pretty advanced level within the plugin itself.
EQ the Reverbs
If both reverbs are occupying the same space, the chances are that you’ll be getting unwanted overlap that can fill the space within your mix, and then some.
Here is the same passage, now with EQ added to the overall reverb and the snare reverb.
This is the exact same level of reverb, purely with EQ processing added. There is now a lot more clarity within the mix, whilst keeping the integrity of the reverb you added in the first place.
The screenshot below demonstrates the frequencies processed in this case. As you can see, both reverbs have now begun to occupy their own space. In effect, we keep both reverbs but have carved out a space within the mix for them to sit.
Pan is Your Man
To create width within your mix, think about creatively panning the reverb to free up space within the stereo width of your mix.
Here is the drum passage with the snare reverb panned hard left:
Although this may be a bizarre example for a drum kit passage, the central and right space has definitely opened up, ready to be filled with other elements of your mix.
This process works especially well on shakers or guitar parts that need both reverb yet an up-front punch.
Level Your Levels
Finally, once you’re satisfied with the reverb you have chosen, make sure you re-assess the levels. It is wise to do this at all stages of your mix - reverb often has the “less is more” effect.
Here is the final example of our drum passage, with the levels of reverb re-balanced. In this instance we’ve reduced the overall level of reverb, whilst maintaining the snare reverb at a fairly highly, centralizing the panning we processed in the step above.
4. Place Your Space
Now we’ve established that using multiple reverbs doesn’t have to be a sin, it is very useful to imagine how you might chose the most appropriate reverbs for your mix.
If you’re struggling, this scenario always gets the juices flowing for me. Imagine you are seeing the artist/act live. It’s just you in the audience, and them on stage.
Use this checklist for inspiration:
- What is the size of the room? Is it
an arena? A small club? Bar?
- What is your position? Are you be
sitting at the back? Standing at the front? (Hopefully it’s not running to the
bar for a beer!)
- What is the stage layout? Is the singer off-center? Is the keyboard player at the side? Does the guitarist run around? Is the band static? Would anyone come out into the crowd?
There are endless more variables but this is just another way of helping to visualize yourself within a 3D space. If you consider these points, you are more equipped to make creative decisions about the reverb you may choose and where you’d like the components to sit within a full mix.
For example, a left-field band who stay aloof on a dark stage in a underground venue in New York, may benefit from a dryer blend of reverb, a smaller size, shorter pre-delay and generally lower levels of this effect.
However if you’re a stadium band, with a huge light show, masses of audience participation, you may want to think about a larger reverb, longer tail, and a longer pre-delay to match the ethos of the group.
These are creative decisions that usually impact the perception of your mix with the band, their management, A&R etc. You could even be daring and take the mix in a completely different direction to contrast the perception of the band. This is essentially down to you as the mix engineer/producer – be creative!
Reverb is one of the most powerful effect tools you can use to enhance a mix. Rarely a mix passes through without at least some reverb processing.
Nowadays, the use of over-the-top reverb has gone wildly out of fashion - it has to be extremely appropriate and reflect the creative output of the act in question. However, a mix without reverb is usually not a mix at all.
The processes in this tutorial have demonstrated ways in which you can think about reverb in a modern context, keeping your mixes fresh and contemporary without having to ditch reverb altogether.
However the real way to see the results is to get experimenting with the effect and using these tools in a way that’s individual for you, and therefore the track you’re mixing. And it’s those unique stamps that will help you rise to the top of your game.