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Get That Pro Sound The Ultimate Guide to Reverb First Edition

Publication date: August 2012 Published by George Robinson Getthatprosound.com Copyright George Robinson, All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from the publisher. While all attempts have been made to verify information provided in this publication, the Author does not assumes any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein. Of course, please let me know if you find any errors and Ill correct them! The Purchaser or Reader of this publication assumes responsibility for the use of these materials and information. Neither the Author nor its dealers or distributors, will be held liable for any damages caused either directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this book, or by the software or hardware products described herein.

Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Contents 1.
Introduction........................................................................................ 4 What Is Reverb, & Why Is It Useful? Types of Reverb.................................................................................. 6 Algorithmic Convolution Modelled Anatomy of a Reverb Plugin............................................................. 7 Key Reverb Parameters Other Common Parameters Plugin Preset Categories Selecting, Setting Up & Tweaking A Reverb Plugin...................... 11 Nine Steps

2. 3. 4. 5.

Reverb Strategies: Assigning Reverbs to Instruments................ 15 No Reverb! The Two-Reverb Approach Three-Reverb Approach #1: Vocals, Drums & Instruments Three-Reverb Approach #2: Fore/Mid/Background..................... 17 Foreground Middleground Background Cathedral Reverb

6. 7.

25 Reverb Pro Tips............................................................................19 Conclusion......................................................................................... 26

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Introduction

What Is Reverb, & Why Is It Useful?


Reverberation occurs naturally, and is the effect of sound waves reflecting off the surfaces they come into contact with the walls and ceiling in a typical room, for example and mixing or overlapping to varying degrees with the original sound. If you were in that room and clapped your hands, you would hear a combination of the original, direct sound, very closely followed by the reflected sound bouncing back off the walls around you. Different surfaces reflect the sound in different ways bouncing some frequencies back and absorbing others, for example. Whats more, the further away the surfaces are from each other and the listener, the longer it will take for the reflections to be heard after the initial sound. Our brains use this information how long it takes for reflections to reach us after the original sound, the frequency content of those reflections, and how many of them there are to determine what sort of space we are in. This is why a huge stone cathedral sounds, and significantly for us, feels, completely different to standing in the middle of a quiet forest. Even if you were blindfolded, you could tell where you are just by clapping your hands and listening to the reflections (or lack thereof). As music producers, this psycho-acoustic effect of reverb is one of our most powerful allies in creating the most emotive and effective sense of space and place in the mind of the listener. Manipulating the spatial information that is part of each sound is a fundamental component of any track, enabling us to glue, blend or separate individual parts from each other, and adding a particular vibe to the track as a whole. Figure 1: Room reflections. Because room surfaces reflect sound, we hear not only the direct sound from the speaker but also the indirect, reflected sound, slightly later. This happens both as discrete, early reflections, and also as washes of smoother reverb. Speaker

Direct sound Early reflection

Listener Early reflection Reverb waves

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb


Now reverb is not the most obvious effect most typical listeners are not going to be consciously aware of the effects of reverb and what it is contributing to your mixes, or how they are unconsciously drawing spatial information from how youve treated your sounds. But far from being less exciting than compression or some of the more obvious in-your-face effects and processes, the way that reverb works mostly on a subtle, psycho-acoustic level makes it something of a secret weapon. When youve mastered the key tricks and techniques, youll be able to manipulate the apparent size, tone and overall atmosphere of your tracks like a magician playing with his audience: You can convince your listeners that the music you make, on even the most basic setup, in the smallest rooms, comes across like a huge, stadium-filling juggernaut. Or just as easily, you can simply create a flattering, cohesive environment in which to plant your track, bringing a sense of it being rooted in a tangible space. As we use panning to position individual parts left or right, we can use reverb to locate elements of the music on the front to back axis. Generally, the more reverb you add to an instrument, the further away it will sound, which can really help to place it in context with other sounds in the track. Your mixes can take on a hyperreal depth with good use of reverb especially when used in conjunction with EQ and compression, which well cover in the tips section later in the book.

Photo: Pat Ong

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Types of Reverb

Algorithmic, Convolution, & Modelling


There are different types of reverb units and plugins to choose from because of the different approaches that have been created to artificially simulate natural reverb. Before electronic units and computer plugins, electro-mechanical spring and plate reverbs and echo chambers were the only ways to introduce reverb to recordings. Fortunately things have moved on considerably since then, but these older mechanical reverbs had a charm and sound of their own that is still sought after in the digital domain. This is where emulations and vintage modelling plugins come in.

Algorithmic reverbs use calculations based on hypothetical rooms and other spaces to

generate their reverb sounds. Generally this gives a sharper, more artificial sound, typified by most hardware digital reverbs of the last 30 years. This is not necessarily a bad thing though musically were not always after the most natural sound, but the one that has the right character for the track. In fact, algorithmic reverb can be easier to place in a mix because it isnt as realistic as convolution reverb! Algorithmic reverbs also tend to be the lightest on the computers CPU, a significant consideration when youre using several instances in a busy mix.

Convolution reverbs use pre-recorded samples of real rooms and spaces to build Impulse

Response (IR) files of those spaces. The impulse response is then convolved with the incoming audio signal you want to process, hence the name. Convolution reverbs then, are generally far better at simulating real spaces than algorithmic reverbs the only major downside is that they also require significantly more CPU processing power. Generally then youll want to use convolution reverb where a lifelike quality is important for example, you can simulate the effect of a set of ambient room mics (more on how to this on the following pages). Convolution reverb can take a bit more work to sit in the mix than a good algorithmic reverb it can easily be a bit heavy in the low mids and lack high-end sparkle, as this is how real reverb tends to sound.

Modelling reverbs are designed to replicate the characteristics of particular vintage hard-

ware reverb units, such as the Universal Audio EMT 140 modelled on a real mechanical EMT plate reverb, or the spring reverb emulations found in many guitar amp plugins. These vintage reverbs can provide a fantastic contrast to the relatively soulless digital perfection of algorithmic or convolution reverbs, bringing additional character and nice tonal shaping to whatever you run through them.

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Anatomy Of A Reverb Plugin


Main Controls, Terminology & Programs
Even if you understand the principles of reverb, it can be a bit intimidating when youre first confronted with so many individual knobs and controls on a plugin interface in your DAW. Where do you start, and how can you use each control to give you just the right sound for your parts and mixes? Lets start by dissecting a typical plugin and demystify all the controls and parameters once you get your head around these essential components of every reverb, youll be able to quickly get to grips with any reverb plugin you like:

Key Reverb Parameters


The important reverb parameters generally placed under user control are: early reflection pattern, pre-delay time, overall decay time and high-frequency damping.

Pre-delay refers to the time between when the original sound starts and when you hear the
first of the reverbs early reflections. The greater the pre-delay time, the larger the perceived room size: imagine how in a large space such as a hall or a cathedral it will take longer for the sound to reflect back as it has more distance to travel. Increase the pre-delay time to put a bit of separation between the original sound and the reverb this way you get the spatial benefits of reverb without it cluttering or masking the mix (particularly useful for vocals and lead lines).

Early reflections are the first distinct echoes heard at the onset of the reverb.

No early reflections are heard until the sound has reached the nearest wall or obstacle and reflected back to the listener. This initial delay between the direct sound and the first reflected sound provides what is perhaps the strongest clue as to the room size: if the reflection returns as a distinct echo, it suggests that the reflective surface is both solid and flat. A more diffuse echo (one with less pronounced individual reflections) suggests irregular surfaces. The greater the spacing of the early reflections, the larger the space sounds.

Reverb time or decay time refers to the time it takes for the reverb tail to dissipate into

silence. Its not actually very easy to say when a reverberant signal finally disappears, so theres a standard measurement of reverb decay known as RT60: this sounds like a component of some complex equation, but it simply means the time taken for the level of the reverb to decay by 60dB. Simple! Long decay times work well on sustained sounds but. When you first start playing with reverb it seems obvious that a long overall reverb decay time is the best way to create the impression of

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a large environment but this is also the quickest way of filling up all the gaps in your track and creating a big mush. In fact, as already mentioned above, as much depends here on the early reflections to tell us how big a space seems to be. For example, a small tiled bathroom will be very reflective and so may have almost as long a decay time as a large hall but the nature of the early reflections and the brightness of the following reverb tail are what give us the clues as to the rooms actual size. Speaking of brightness

High-frequency damping allows the high frequency decay time of the reverb tail to be

made shorter than the overall decay time. This emulates the way the surfaces and materials in real rooms absorb certain frequencies. Adjust this parameter for more or less realism, and also to colour the reverb as bright or dark to fit it into the mix (more on this shortly). It is basically a high-shelf EQ built into the reverb, but you could certainly use a separate EQ plugin for this after the reverb for greater control if needed.

Low-frequency damping often appears next to the high-frequency damping control.

This can be very useful for shelving off some muddying lows and mids and help you shape the reverb to fit the part and the track overall.

Mix or Wet/Dry controls are simply where you choose the proportions of the original

sound and the reverbed sound. If you have your reverb plugin set up as a send effect, the Mix knob should be set to 100% / Wet, as youll be controlling the proportions based on how much level you send from each individual track.

Other Common Parameters


The Size control actually changes a few parameters simulataneously behind the scenes, but its most audible effect can be the way it spaces out the early reflections: as we already mentioned, the greater the spacing of these discrete echoes, the larger the room will sound. Related to the above Size control, Reverb Density refers to the density of the reflections making up the reverb component of the sound. The more tightly packed the individual reflections, the higher the reverb density. Lower densities can produce coarse-sounding reverbs on percussive sounds but are often flattering to vocals and other non-percussive sounds. High-density reverbs tend to sound more natural on drums and percussion. Related to Density is Diffusion, which determines the rate at which the reflections increase in density after the original sound. A large, square room with flat surfaces might have a relatively low diffusion rate compared to a room of similar size covered in irregularly shaped surfaces

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb


this is why concert halls typically feature lots of pillars and intricate alcoves, and also highlights why acoustic foam in irregular shapes is used so much in studios (including yours, hopefully!). On some reverb plugins you might have the option of controlling the Shape of the reverb decay curve. This is getting into the realms of details that might not be that useful for musicians, but acousticians would argue that decay shapes are significant to great, natural-sounding reverb (apparently many of the best-sounding spaces exhibit a double decay characteristic separated by a short plateaux). If you have the option, play around with this control and see what it can do for you.

Plugin Preset Categories


Now that weve introduced the main parameters used to create and control reverb, it will make far more sense to look at each of the typical preset categories and begin to understand precisely how and why a Hall sounds different to a small room or a vintage plate reverb unit.

Room / Hall / Chamber: The first reverb effects used for recorded music were created

with echo chambers - a loudspeaker would play the sound back in the chamber, and a microphone would pick it up again, including the echo of the room itself. The same principle still applies for simulated room and hall reverbs -youre capturing the ambience of a particularly sized and shaped space. For example, for a typical hall reverb that simulates the acoustics of large spaces such as concert halls, the reverb density would tend to build up over time and there will be a long reverb tail. A hall reverb can make sounds seem further away, so its of great use in putting some front-toback perspective into a mix. A room reverb, on the other hand, generally simulates a smaller space than a hall and is a good all-round reverb for instruments. Chamber reverb can be good for putting some air around synths, sampled drums and DId instruments.

Plate: After echo chambers came plate reverb, used a lot in the 60s and 70s. Plate reverbs

use a transducer to create vibrations across a large plate of sheet metal. A pickup captures the vibrations as they bounce across the plate, and the result is output again as an audio signal. Plate reverb tends to be bright and clean-sounding good for vocals and drums and is making something of a revival recently.

Spring: Uses a similar principle to that of plate reverb, but with a metal spring instead of a

plate. A transducer at one end and a pickup at the other are used to create and then capture vibrations within the spring. Being compact and relatively cheap to manufacture, many guitar amp designs ended up incorporating a spring reverb unit. Spring reverb adds a distinctive metal-

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lic colouration to the sound, and in the days of classic rock n roll it was known that you could shake the reverb cabinet while recording so that the springs clashed together for a properly unhinged sound. I wouldnt recommend attempting this with a plugin version though Gated reverb: This effect was originally created by taking the reverb in an actual room, heavily compressing it, and using a noise gate to cut it abruptly rather than let the sound decay over time. Now it can easily be created with a reverb plugin too, with precise control over the exact length of the reverb. Gated reverb can be quite aggressive and sound very reminiscent of the 80s if youre not careful but it can still work wonders powering up snare drums or for giving guitars an extra edge.

Non-Linear and Reverse reverb: Refers to particularly unnatural but cool-sounding

reverb presets that can be used for unusual effects, such as reverse reverb that seems to build up in level rather than decay after the original sound. Reverse reverb is actually a variation on gated reverb, where a reverse-type envelope (slow attack, fast decay) is applied to the early reflections cluster. Like gated reverb, the main parameter is the time taken for the reverb to build up and cut off. The effect gives the sound being processed a cool backwards feel, even though nothing is actually being reversed. By the way, real reverse reverb (that actually starts before the dry sound) can easily be created in your DAW by first reversing your source material; then applying the reverb and bouncing/ reimporting the file onto a new track; and then flipping this new file so its facing the right way again, and bringing it up underneath the original material to taste.

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Selecting, Setting Up & Tweaking A Reverb Plugin


OK, so now we know exactly what does what, and by looking at the presets we can see how varying the combinations of settings gives us a whole range of spatial options. But what is the process we should go through in order to construct the perfect reverb setting for our own unique applications? As you begin setting up a reverb, stop and think for a moment: what kind of space are you imagining? What kind of characteristics would a real space like this have? Approaching reverb in this way can save you a lot of time and safeguard against falling into unstructured presetsurfing, hoping to stumble across the right sound by accident. Believe me, in the long run its a lot quicker to spend some time learning the few essential steps and approaching your reverb settings in a strategic way.

1. Choose the Reverb Type & Configure It In Your DAW

From the descriptions above and having even a very quick play with different reverb plugins, youll soon get a feel for what type of reverb algorithmic, convolution or modelled will suit your needs for particular sounds. So, having asked yourself what you actually want the size and space to sound like, whether you want it add brightness or body to the part being processed or to set it back in the mix a little; whether you want it to sound very natural, sparkly or otherwise particularly characterful, choose a plugin and set it up as a send or effect channel (the terms will be different depending on your DAW). Reverb is almost always best applied via a send-return effect configuration like this, so that a single plugin can be accessed from multiple channels in your mix. Also check two important things before going on: A) The reverb plug-in should be set to 100% Wet so its only outputting processed effect otherwise youll end up inadvertently boosting the channels overall level too. Turn all the way down or switch off Dry signal in the reverb GUI (again, different plugins will have slightly different controls and terminology). B) Make sure the individual channels sending to the reverb are set to post-fader. This means that the balance of wet and dry sound will remain constant if you adjust the send channels main fader, and you wont have any ghostly reverb shadows remaining in the mix if you fade out the channel completely at any point. (Pre-fader can be good when turning the send channel all the way down for disembodied pad effects).

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

2. Select A Preset To Start With

This is an optional step bepending on how confident and in-depth you want to go with your own programming here. Dont be afraid of using presets to get you in the ballpark of the sound youre aiming for quickly just dont use presets as an excuse not to tweak the reverb to make it fit as well as it possibly can. Also, dont interpret preset names too rigidly: just because a setting is called Small Room or Drum Plate doesnt mean it cant be almost exactly what you had in mind for your synth lead. When selecting a starting sound, whats most important is the overall acoustic signature and the amount of reverb being applied. If the frequency balance seems a little off, you can correct and tidy things up with EQ later. Keep things as large brushstrokes at this point, its all too easy to get bogged down in minor parameter adjustments!

3. Set The Early Reflections

The part of a reverb that is primarily responsible for its blending effect is roughly its first halfsecond. So whenever you try a new preset, reduce its length straight away to home in on the blending characteristics. If you have independent level controls for Early Reflections and Reverb Tail, pulling down the latter should help too. It doesnt matter exactly how short you make the reverb for the momentjust shorten it enough to make it into a brief, well-defined burst of reflections rather than an echoey decay tail.

4. Set The Predelay And Early Reflections

Remember, if you want the impression of a longer/larger reverb, try playing with the pre-delay before extending the reverb decay time. This slight seperation of the reverb tail from the direct sound makes a huge difference in reducing mix clutter and improving clarity. If you want the reverb to act more as a subtle blending/thickening agent, at this stage you might also want to try boosting the early reflections and significantly reducing the tail to check it has the necessary tonal character. Another significant thing to be aware of is that you can link the pre-delay time to the track tempo this can be particularly important for EDM productions, where everything possible should enhance and work within the groove. If your bpm is 120, you have one quarter note every 500ms. You have one eighth note every 250 ms. You have one sixteenth note every 125ms, you have one 32nd note every 63ms. 64th notes at 32ms. In order to have the predelay trigger the reverb in a rhythmic fashion, it needs to be at one of these measures. Id go with 32 or 63ms, because we want the reverb to still feel attached

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to its source sound. Also, you notice how I rounded up? Thats to put the reverb behind the beat. This helps create a rhythmic pocket. I might even suggest moving the predelay higher a couple ms, just to make that pocket a bit more open, and so that the reverb isnt sounding at exactly the same time as the next beat in the music. If you do actually want to push sounds back in the mix, the less pre-delay the reverb has, the more the it will appear to pull the sound back in the mix. With no pre-delay at all, the sound will appear to be right up against the rear wall of your room Try starting off with 10 to 20ms of predelay, aiming on the shorter side for a more intimate-sounding space and on the longer side for a more spacious virtual acoustic, and then to refine the setting up to a few milliseconds either side of that initial setting for tonal reasons. to, and the master buss, you will notice the difference! >> >> In many other instances though youll want to use a reverb with a longer decay than this less of a tight rhythmic room slap and more of a bigger resonance. In our 120bpm example, try dialling in a 2-second decay that is, four 500ms quarter notes, or one beat of a bar. Remember that whether you use calculations like this or just find the settings by ear is purely a matter of what works best for you. Either way, once youve set a starting decay time, its time to do some quick A/B comparisons with the dry sound mute and unmute the reverb, fade it up and down, generally get a feel for whether its contributing to the original sound. Finally, if you feel its working, leave it faded up at a comfortably level underneath the dry sound.

6. Set The Size

5. Set Reverb Decay Time

Its quite normal to tweak this setting by ear at this point but you can also, again, apply some mathematical logic as we did for the pre-delay. If we want our reverb to rhythmically help pull us into the next beat, we want the reverb decay / tail length to fit into the correct amount of time between the notes. Going back to our 120 bpm example, you know that there will be a 250ms gap between each 1/8 note. So, taking 250ms and of course subtracting the pre-delay (lets say 34ms) gives us a rhythmically-related decay time of 216ms. At first the difference between this and another less precise amount may sound negligable, but once youve potentially compressed the reverb, the send channel, the group its routed

The size control will affect the tightness and tone of the reverb sound. Its mostly a matter of taste, but you can try dividing the reverb time by ten, and using this as a ballpark size in feet for your room. Then adjust the size up for a more spacey sound; down for more of a tighter echo.

7. Set Density & Diffusion

These parameters essentially control whether the reverb is heard either as a series of discrete echoes or a denser, smoother tail of reverb how scattered the sound waves are. This is useful for further matching the reverb presence and tone to the dry instrument, and also again for helping push sounds further back in the mix (greater diffusion) without lengthening the reverb itself. Typically, smooth, dense reverbs tend to suit percussive

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sounds, while grainier, less diffuse reverb settings will work better on less percussive instruments like vocals and guitars. That said, the relatively dense sound of vintage plate reverb also sounds great on vocals, so its worth experimenting to see which works best.

8. Stereo Width Adjustment

Remember that you have the option to pan the reverb seperately from the original dry sound, which opens up quite a few possibilities. For example, if you want your reverb to help glue the mix together, panning the reverb quite wide gives the impression of the whole mix being encompassed and surrounded by it, in the same acoustic space. Or, you might want to keep the reverb relatively narrow and focused to stop things getting too cluttered in a busier mix. Experiment with panning the reverb to the same stereo position as the dry sound and then moving it away and around the stereo field: hear how, in the context of the mix you can use the reverb element of a sound like a highlighter or diffuser, depending on what works best.

9. Set Damping And Insert An EQ

Generally youll want to remove any frequencies below about 300Hz from the reverb return these will just add mud to the mix and clutter the valuable lower region, which should be kept clear for the bass and kick drum (that both work best with no reverb almost all the time). You might also want to cut away some of the very highest frequencies, which will help sit the reverb better in the mix and stop it drawing too much attention to itself. Beyond these basic adjustments, consider how much of the frequency spectrum you want the reverb to take up, and whether you want the reverb to be bright (synthetic, glittery, cool) or dark (natural, rich, warm). As already mentioned, bright-sounding reverb will push its way to the front of the mix and make its presence felt which can be good for EDM lead synths, for example. But place a bright acoustic guitar through that same reverb and it just wont sound right. Dark reverb, on the other hand, tends to have a more natural, receding quality to it, sitting behind the instrument and not cluttering the high end of the mix in the same way. Of course theres nothing to stop you using a reverb thats both warm and bright. The only problem is that if the reverb fills the whole frequency spectrum there will be less space left for your actual instruments. Youll generally get much more professional-sounding results by limiting the reverb sound to a specific frequency region, as you would any other musical part, and letting the complete mix work in combination to fill the spectral landscape. Remember that you might also need to bring up the overall level of the reverb return once youve cut out some of its frequency content like this.

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Reverb Strategies

Assigning Reverbs to Instruments How Many Reverbs?


So, Im sure you know by now that reverb can be a powerful part of your mixing arsenal. But, how do we best use it in the context of a complete mix? Its easy to find yourself applying a reverb to one part and it sounding great but then, sending another instrument to the same reverb sounds awful, and you end up wanting to change the reverb settings, undoing the good sound you originally achieved. How do we get enough blend on some instruments while avoiding muddying the mix overall, or increase the perceived sustain of one part while not making the rest of the track sound like boomy mush? Clearly, a one-size-fits-all, single reverb approach doesnt work for long. At the same time, you dont want to have a separate reverb for every single track in your mix: that would just become unmanageable (and extremely CPU-intensive!) very quickly. It is for these reasons that the best approach is usually to set up several different reverb effects on one song this way, you can have each of them doing subtley different jobs, and you wont get stuck trying to make a single reverb plugin achieve all of the enhancements you want. Once you have some reverbs set up for specialized tasks, its more straightforward to apply them in just the right combinations to achieve the best overall reverb sound for your mixes. As ever, there are no rules: use reverb across your mix however you feel sounds best. But probably the most common overall approach to reverb for a typical track (or as a starting point) is to set up two, three or four different reverbs on different sends/effect channels, thinking of them in tiers that graduate from short/dry to wet/long.

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Use Your Reference Tracks!

When deciding which configuration of reverbs will suit your music best, try going back to your reference tracks and listen carefully, making a note of which type of reverb you think is used on which instruments or sections, and how many there might be overall. Learn by example. See my post on How To Effectively Analyze Your Reference Tracks In 6 Steps for more tips on this.

Reverb Strategy #1: No Reverb!

Your first question should always be, Does it even need reverb? Dont fire up your plugins without thinking about it first. Lots of commercial tracks have next to no reverb at all, because they already have enough blend, size and atmosphere as it is. If youve recorded parts live with fairly loose, ambient miking (as opposed to close-miking which would minimise the natural sound reflections of the recording space), you might not need reverb to achieve the desired effect. Similarly, you might find the tighter, more distinct echoes of a delay effect work better in some instances than reverb.

The Two-Reverb Approach

This setup is streamlined and relatively straightforward, but still flexible enough for many mixing situations. One reverb would normally be set for a short, bright sound (probably a plate sound) for drums and percussive sounds, whilst the other would be longer and warmer, providing a nice rich quality for vocals and solo instruments. Plus theres nothing stopping you sending some instruments to both reverbs (percussive one first) for a bonus third spatial effect.

Three-Reverb Approach #1: Vocals, Drums & Instruments


Another popular strategy is to set up one reverb for vocals, another for drums and one more for the rest of the instruments. Again, it can work to use more than one reverb on the same sound: for instance a lead vocal might benefit from being treated with two reverbs layered up, one with a short decay, one with a longer decay. The main thing to look out for as you do this is to make sure the reverbs used dont clash with each other and confuse the overall picture.

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Three-Reverb Approach #2: Fore/Mid/Background


This is my preferred approach in most cases set up three reverbs, but rather than assigning sounds to them based on instrument groupings, you essentially send sounds to them based on where you want them to appear on the front-to-back, depth axis. Using a strategy like this can really enhance the sense of space and depth in your tracks, whilst minimizing clutter and other problems that can arise as you balance the mix. Lets take a look at the uses of each of the three reverbs in more detail:

Foreground Reverb

Our first, foreground reverb will be tight, being made up of a short burst of early reflections and a very short tail, to the point where it might be almost indistinguishable from the main sound. This is fine though, as this reverb is for adding only a very discrete sense of space to parts that otherwise we want to be quite upfront and uncluttered. In fact, short ambience reverbs like this actually give sounds a sense of extra body and density, and are a favourite tool of many pros for a pleasing thickening effect of guitars, synths and drums. Short reverbs have a number of distinct uses and musical advantages. Primarily, short reverbs negate the clutter that longer reverb tails tend to bring. This is immediately noticeable on rhythmic elements (like drums, for example, or rhythm guitar) when you need the reverb tail to fit between the notes rather than smear itself across the entirety of the bar. Using a short reverb, therefore, will retain all the punch of the rhythm section, but still provide some sense of acoustic space to sit your instruments in. Its a bit like bringing up overhead mics on a live drum kit recording: you get a subtle but important sense of the sounds being in a real acoustic environment. Find some good small room or ambience presets on your chosen reverb plugin as a good starting point. Tweak the wet/dry ratio and youll probably find that you only need relatively small amounts of reverb to deliver the required real space effect without it becoming too obvious. Also try tweaking the relative balance between the early reflections and the reverb tail, so that you get more or less of the initial flutter of bright early reflections rather than the more diffuse reverb tail. Well also look at the middle ground, where reverb becomes a more noticeable effect, and how finer details like the colour and type of reverb become so essential to the success of the results. Finally, well also explore some long cathedral-like reverbs and see how the extremities of the effect can become a creative springboard for new sonic exploration.

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Middleground Reverb

Middleground reverbs begin where the effect can be identified as a specific sound itself. A good place to start is to select a preset with a distinct reverb tail of perhaps 1-2 seconds. With this second of our three reverbs, the type and particular characteristics of the reverb become far more audible, and therefore youll want to spend a little more time selecting just the right sound to match your source material than you needed to for your shorter foreground effect. This is where the character of your reverb strategy is expressed: try playing with the high and low frequency damping controls to adjust how bright or dark the mid reverb will sound.

Background Cathedral Reverb

The part weve all been waiting for: the sort of reverb that makes things sound truly huge. This kind of reverb becomes a special effect, a feature of the mix in its own right. The thing to remember here is that used sparingly on a few select instruments or effect hits, massive reverb will give a great sense of depth and contrast; but plaster it over too many elements in your mix and were back to mush city. Pushing reverb times beyond six seconds or more takes the effect into far more spacious and dramatic territory, arguably making it perfect for sounds that need to sit at the rear of the mix or for deliberate shock treatments (such as large trailer hits, when reverb is used as a sound effect in its own right). Where your short reverb will be discrete and subtle, and your midground reverb quite disciplined as it needs to relate strongly to the source material, you can let your proverbial hair down and be a bit more extreme with the wet return on your big background reverb. In fact, one of my favourite ways for creating unique and atmospheric pads is to put sounds or instrument notes through a massive reverb 20-30 secs! make the reverb send pre-fader and turn the channel fader right down; now you have just the reverb return, creating an incredibly ghostly and haunting wash that often sounds nothing like your original source sound. Listen to Jon Hopkins album Insides or his soundtrack for the movie Monsters to hear masterful examples of this effect in action. It also works really well on backing vocals and synth pads. As with midground reverb, the timbral/textural qualities of your massive reverb will be even more pronounced, so try a few different hall, cathedral and custom settings to start with. A convolution reverb plugin such as Altiverb (a favourite of many pro studios) is the obvious initial choice for long, natural reverb tails there are many great IR files sourced from massive cathedrals and suchlike. But dont overlook trying an algorithmic or modelled reverb if you have one, like the awesome Lexicon PCM plugin, whose super-long reverb seems to float with infinite sustain. Any super-long reverb will tend to work best if its relatively dark, with more pronounced high and low frequency damping so that you dont swamp the entire mix!

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

25 Reverb Pro Tips


1. When Is Reverb Not Reverb? When Its Ambience
Modern music tends not to use a lot of very obvious reverb but instead relies a lot on socalled ambience algorithms. These recreate the early reflections of a natural room but add little or no reverb tail (certainly less than a second), enabling them to create a sense of space and solidarity without smothering the sound in reverb. Ambience can be used to make close-miked or synthesized sounds sit more convincingly in a mix. Because the extra reflections add to the original sounds, percussive parts treated with ambience often sound more powerful. A dry sound, for example, will favour short transients, but add in some reverb and the kit will sound louder, with the reverb adding body and sustain to each drum hit. It can sound a bit like simulated overhead drum mics. Vocals can also benefit from this form of body-enhancing treatment, without the clutter of a long reverb tail that also tends to push the vocal to the back of the mix.Because most of the work is done by the early reflections, there may be fewer parameters to adjust than with a normal reverb algorithm, pre-delay, duration and brightness being the most important.

Compression can be a great solution to the conundrum of wanting to push a sound further back in the mix with a bit of reverb, but without robbing it completely of its power and presence in the mix (as reverb can also tend to do). Compress the reverb tail and you get the psycho-acoustic depth-creating effect of the reverb while also keeping the sound present and as upfront as you want.

3. Use Pre-delay To Keep Sounds With Large Reverb Upfront

This is worth repeating: In situations where you want to use a large reverb but keep the sound towards the front of the mix, consider increasing the reverbs pre-delay time to around 70150ms. Long pre-delay settings will detach the reverb tail from its source, allowing the original source to sound up-front but still have a sense of ambience floating behind it.

4. Worldising: Using Your Own Chamber Reverbs

2. Compression & Reverb: Provide Space Without Sacrificing Upfrontness


Compression can be used to thicken, sustain and otherwise make the reverb more punchy.

Long before plugins and hardware units, the only way to add reverb to tracks was literally to play them back in specially constructed chambers, rooms lined with tiles or other reflective materials. The room would contain a single speaker and and a microphone: youd play back your dry sound on the speaker and record the newly reverbed version to be reinserted back into the mix. The reverb tone and time could be adjusted by literally moving the speaker and/or the microphone.

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In the 70s, legendary film sound designer Walter Murch (THX 1138, American Graffiti, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now) helped develop the idea of reverb chambers further, by going out into real-world spaces and rerecording his sound designs in them. He didnt have the facilities or technology to make his work artificially match the atmosphere of a futuristic underground highway, in the case of THX 1138 for example, so what did he do? He went to an actual subway terminal and rerecorded his designed tracks there. Worldizing is still used all the time by film sound designers and recordists. Its a lot of fun miking up speakers in all kinds of weird settings, from bathrooms to car interiors, stairwells, lift shafts and wheelie bins (just remember to take your gear out of the bin at the end!). You can learn a lot both about the acoustics of different spaces in general, and your own tracks in particular, and ultimately youll come up with 100% unique sounds and instrument treatments. Try it with synth lines and DId guitars: both of these usually start off lacking any sense of place, so worldizing can work wonders for slipping them comfortably into a track. A related trick is to set up an ambient mic in the room where youre making your original recordings of live instruments. If you like the sound of the room, you can use these ambient recordings of the same performance (as captured by a cleaner, close mic) in the same way as you would for drum overheads: bring them up underneath the main tracks for instant, natural room power.

5. Applying Other Effects To The Reverb Return

EQ isnt the only effect to use in combination with your reverb try setting up chains of effects on your reverb send channels, such as distortion, phasing, or any type of filter modulation, and you can give stock sounds a character all their own. To create a subtly shimmering reverb sound, try adding chorus, flanging or pitch shift to the reverb. A great sound for synths and keys can be achieved by treating the reverb with chorus this sounds completely different to simply applying the chorus directly to the synth part, adding a nice subtle swirling quality. You can also do the reverse of this: adding reverb to the return of other insert or send effects. This works particularly well with delay for a really classy and subtle overall effect.

6. Sometimes Its Best To Get As Far Away As Possible From Polite Blending
Listen to your reference tracks and youll notice that many modern productions apply reverb only selectively a lot of pop, urban, and electronic tracks benefit from some elements being poorly blended, so that theyre right in your face at the front of the mix.

7. How To Overcome The Too Much Reverb Syndrome

A classic mistake that inexperienced producers make is to add too much reverb. When you first get into using reverb, you will make mistakes and add what seems like appropriate amounts of reverb, only to listen back a couple of days and wonder what you were thinking. Its easy to do. Sometimes, the more you listen

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for it, the harder it is to hear it. You get control of the reverb (and other effects) in your tracks only when you learn to listen confidently. Relaxed, youll hear everything you need to hear, and, with experience youll know how to adjust the controls accordingly. Give yourself the chance to learn by making some fat, juicy mistakes first!

8. Find Your Favourite Reverb Sounds And Stick With Them

All reverbs offer unique and subtle sonic contributions to your audio that defy measurement. Take two different reverbs and set them to the same patch, dialling in the same values for all their adjustable parameters, and theyll still sound different. No symphony hall sounds exactly the same as any other. No plate sounds exactly like any other. Always listen for what you like; ultimately its just the end sound produced that matters, not the reverb time, not the algorithm, and certainly not the reverb make and model number. Then, add these reverb presets/sends to your DAW template, ready for your next track.

9. Gated Reverb: Chunk Up Limp Snares

Despite being associated forever with the 80s and Phil Collins drum fills, gated reverb can be just the thing for adding power to your EDM or rock snare drum. Send the snare drum to an aggressively compressed, very long reverb patch (try a plate preset with a modified reverb time of five seconds) to create a bed of noise that will take ages to decay. Then add a noise gate to get rid of most of the crazy reverb tail. The result is a punchy gated reverb. Its also common to set the gated reverb to a musical note value so it works in sync with the overall groove try giving the decay on the snare a dotted eighth note feel, for example.

10. Using Reverb When Making & Slicing Samples

When taking samples, we often have to truncate the end to get rid of any unwanted sound, but run the risk of abruptly cutting short any ambience in doing so. This ambience can be replaced using a digital reverb. After shaping the envelope of the tail end of the sample run it through the reverb unit and resample the whole sound with its new reverb tail.

11. Reverb: Mono Or Stereo?

A great benefit of reverb, apart from its ability to impart depth to your mixes, is the way it can be used to spread your instruments further across the stereo field. If you want to enhance the sense of spaciousness still further, set the reverb to a different pan position than the original sound. Alternatively, pan the reverb to the same position as the source part, and youll have a more tightly focused sound overall. Often the best strategy is to use a combination of more targeted and focused mono reverb sends with more lush stereo

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb


reverbs for an impressively wide, deep and focused mix. Also remember that extreme panning has significant effects on the compatibility between stereo and mono versions of your mix, as the amount of reverb heard in mono may be substantially less than that in the stereo balance. If mono listeners are likely to be an important part of your music audience, always check for mono compatibility. One strategy to improve mono compatibility is to simply reduce the stereo width of the reverb; alternatively, you can mix in a small amount of reverb from another reverb plugin which you then pan centrally. the mix so easily. Many modulation effects, such as chorus, will also provide a distancing effect on instruments by making them more diffuse sounding. Double-tracking can help blend an instrument or voice better too, even if you keep the double-track at such a low level that its not really audible in its own right. Adding very subtle, room-level background noise to your mix may sound scary, but it will often improve the overall sense of blend. Its something thats always done in film sound editing, as a soundtrack full of specific noises without a unifying ambience behind them feels very disconcerting: the same is true of most electronic/sample-based music too. If you dont have the equipment for recording your own noise recordings, then get hold of a media sound-effects library and look for what are usually called room tone or room ambience files. Room tone is the sound of nothing happening in a roomnot the most interesting thing to listen to, but in a background role it can really help make all the tracks in your mix feel as if they belong together. Tape hiss and vinyl noise have similar blending effects, especially when theyre in stereo. Introducing noise doesnt mean your music will sound lo-fi either: Listen to any of Jon Hopkins fantastically-produced albums for great uses of noise, hiss and room tone, that add significantly to the evocative atmospheres of the tracks.

12. Subtle Non-Linear Reverb Effect on Sharp Percussion

Apart from special effects, you might be wondering when youd ever use non-linear reverb settings. One useful application is on short, shapr percussion sounds such as congas, triangles and claves, whose transients can last mere milliseconds and therefore disappear easily into a busy mix. Try adding a subtle nonlinear reverb to lengthen the perceived duration of such percussion sounds slightly, making them easier to hear and therefore easier to slide into the mix.

13. Alternatives To Reverb: Blending With Delay Or Background Noise

Reverb isnt the only tool for blending sounds, adding depth to the mix or for bringing parts together into a cohesive whole. Short delays will also work very well, and some producers always prefer delay over reverb for the fact that it doesnt threaten to muddy and clutter

14. Pre or Post Fader Reverb-Only Washy Pads

Normally, reverb sends are taken post-fader, so that direct signal level adjustments are reflected in their reverb returns. However, try setting your reverb send channel to pre-fader send, and then muting the original sound so youre left only with the reverb itself. This is

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a great source of pads and sound design atmosphere beds and effects, and the reverb can be treated further with additional effects to make something really ghostly and unusual.

15. Use Automation To Modulate Reverb Times And Levels

You dont have to set your effects and then leave them like that for the entire duration of your track. Use automation to ride the different reverb parameters for different sections of the track, or even set up one reverb for verses and another to add extra lift in the chorus. If youre producing electronic/dance music of of any subgenre, its perfectly normal to be constantly shifting and changing the effects throughout to bring life and movement to the repetitive groove.

16. When To Apply Reverb

Consider when in the extended process of recording, arranging, producing and mixing you plan to treat each element in your mix with reverb. Generally its not a good idea to record with reverb, as you cant then adjust it later In the context of the full mix. On the other hand, giving yourself the ultimate flexibility afforded by plugins and mixing completely In The Box has its own drawbacks: its just very hard to stop continually tweaking and actually commit to a particular sound or effect when you know you can change it any time you want. Again, this is why its important to have a strategy: it can be a good idea to set up your reverb send channels before you start, complete with specific predetermined settings, and not really tweak them unless you really have to. If youve set up a good selection of reverbs, youll be covered, and you might even finish the track! Anyway, the point in the creative process at which you begin applying reverb to your sounds might make a significant impact on your perception of that sound, and therefore on which direction you take the track in. On a more technical level too, if youre using reverb primarily as mix glue or to give the impression of size, it might be best to get your mix balancing done first; whereas reverb used for one-shot effects, for tonal colouration or to be the main component of a sound (such as a washy pad) will clearly need to be effected earlier on. Strategically, it can also help to decide if you want a particular reverb to be almost like an independent instrument in its own right, as though the dry and wet signals were individual parts, or if you want to treat it more as an integral part of the instruments final sound.

17. Combine Different Reverbs On The Same Sound

A simple but classy trick for introducing complexity and movement to sounds is to treat them with two different reverb plugins simultaneously, panned left and right and balanced with the original sound. Alternatively, you could pan them together, using the two different reverbs as a subtle blend rather than keeping them separate. This can be taken to a micro level: for example, to create the ultimate snare drum sound, chop

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb


the transient and the tail of the snare into two separate events each on their own channels, and apply a very short ambience reverb to the transient, and a longer, bright plate reverb on the snare tail. Bounce them down again into one super-snare sample. If you chain together a spring reverb, a tape echo-style delay and an analogue-style phaser, you have all the components of a complete Dub studio. Playing with the order of these effects, and literally playing the effects in real time, is one of the best ways to get under the skin of your reverb or any effect for that matter and understand how to manipulate your sounds in time and space. Whoa

18. Dont use reverb!

As ever, experiment with not using reverb at all, or at least not on every sound. Always try and make sure that you keep at least something in the mix completely dry this will maintain the front-to-back contrast that you want in your mix.

22. Use Reverb As Part Of A Signature Sound

19. Be Wary Of Reverb On Bass Sounds

I wouldnt say never use reverb on bass or kick drums its an integral part of booming bass hits in electronic music and movie trailers but things will get very muddy very quickly down there, so use caution. If you do want to add reverb to lower frequency elements, insert an EQ after it as usual but roll off just the extreme lows from the reverb return.

Every track has one or two lead or signature instruments that sum up the style and tone of the whole piece, often playing the main hook or melody. Reverb can be an integral part of setting the best sound and tone of these parts that makes them stand apart: think of using a really characterful gated reverb on guitars, a shiny and bright space-age reverb on lead synths, or a vintage Space Echo treatment on the snare, for example.

23. Reverb As A Tonal Effect

20. Before Setting Up & Applying Reverb, Ask yourself what role you want it to fulfil

Are you aiming to enhance the character of the sounds to be treated, or is it more a case of helping the sounds sit better in the mix as a whole? Of course, you may want to do both (and the best solutions will probably do so), but even considering the question as a starting point can be very useful in getting on the right track quickly.

Applying reverb can alter the tonal quality of an instrument dramatically, as the echoes that make up the reverb body have the capacity to phase-cancel with the original sound once they are added into the mix side-by-side. This is something to be careful of avoiding if you want to keep the tone of the dry part as it is but it also means you can use reverb purely for its tonal shaping capabilities alongside EQ, applying enough reverb to bed the sound into the mix more smoothly.

24. Matching The Reverb To The Source Sound

21. Get That Dub Sound

Certain sounds respond better or worse to certain reverb types, so although there are no

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rules and you should experiment a lot, try to match the nature of each different reverb space to the sonic character and artistic intent of the target parts. For example, a smooth concert hall setting would sound wrong on an aggressive Dubstep snare, whereas a rougher, garage room or vintage plate sound would probably work well. Similarly, a string section or a choir deserve a cathedral sound to put them in their best light a spring reverb here would sound off. Having said this, if youre after some more unusal treatments for certain sounds that dont completely mangle them, using an unusual reverb configuration could be just the thing.

25. Dynamics Processing The Reverb Return

Sometimes no matter how much EQ you apply or how many parameters you tweak, a reverb just wont do what you want it to. For example, its fairly common for the transients of a sound to produce distracting flams or stereo ricochets when reverb is applied to them. In this case, you can try inserting a transient processor on the return channel immediately before the reverb itself, to tame the sound being treated with reverb but keeping the original intact. Its also quite usual to put a de-esser before the reverb on a vocal track (if the vocal hasnt already been de-essed), so that you dont emphasize any sibilance with a wash of bright reverb! Finally, dont forget you can side-chain compress reverb sends just as you would pads, synths and bass in electronic and dance tracks. This can help both for tying smaller reverbs into the main groove and avoiding clutter, but it can also be used on a much more obvious scale to create a cool rhythmic sucking effect on your cavernous trance and techno reverbed hits.

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Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Reverb

Conclusion

Now you should have all the skills and know-how to select the right reverb plugins, set them up correctly for each given task, and plot an overall reverb strategy for each of your mixes.
Of course theres more to using reverb like a pro than could fit into this ebook - reading about the parameters and techniques is valuable, but the only way to get really competent in anything is to practice and gain as much experience mixing and applying the tools and techniques as you possibly can. So with that in mind, keep this ebook handy, print it out and have it with you as you practice then as tricky scenarios come up (as they always do) youll be able to quickly refer to the relevant tip or parameter setting and move forward efficiently and with minimal wasted effort. Take the next step... and of course decide whether the step is made of stone or wood, whether its in a small dry room or an echoey church etc. etc... ;)

I hope this ebook will be helpful in your next sonic adventures - let me know how you get on at george@getthatprosound.com, and dont forget to check out the GetThatProSound blog regularly for new posts, more tips and a couple more ebooks coming soon.. Best of luck, George Robinson Get That Pro Sound

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