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Top 10 Reverb Tips and Tricks


With reverb, you can make or break a space

Imagine listening to a recording and half a minute into a song you notice something wrong. You can’t quite put your finger on it; you just can’t feel the instruments, you feel attacked by the singer’s in-your-face voice and everything is just too…..dry. It’s like listening to music in a vacuum. There’s no space.

Although listening to a reverb-free record is nearly impossible, (unless it was recorded entirely in an anechoic chamber), you can still have a really dry record if you don’t put any reverb on anything.

Reverb can be perceived as a glue that holds everything together, yet retains enough space to maintain a perceived distance between each element. It makes a three dimensional picture of the soundscape you just recorded, causing you to feel that you can hear the room accompanied by the instrument.

Different modes of reverb

There are quite a few different types of reverb. You can call them reverb modes, or room types. Some of the more common types include; Room, Hall, Chamber, Spring, Plate, and Convolution. In our age, we have access to digital reverb simulators which can simulate, quite realistically, all of these programmed room or reverb modes. Let’s take a look.

  • Room reverb – These types simulate the sound of having recorded something in a room. Whether the parameters are for a big room or a drum room, they usually simulate smaller spaces than their Hall/Chamber counterparts.
  • Hall reverb – Rich, warm and big are the first adjectives that come to mind when thinking about Hall reverb. These types simulate halls, whether they be medium halls, concert halls, or whatever lush parameter name the hall has.
  • Plate reverb – Plate reverb is a personal favorite of mine for vocals. Live, I propably use it too much, but I just think it does wonder to the vocals, without taking it too far or drowning it in reverb. Plate reverb is basically sound being sent to a metal plate which vibrates back and forth. These vibrations are picked up and transformed into an audio signal. Plate reverbs are very bright but clean, so they suit vocals especially.
  • Spring reverb – I was once asked what reverb was when I was fooling around with my guitar. I cranked up the reverb on my small practice amp and then kicked it. “That boing you heard?” “Yeah?” “That’s reverb”. Although true is some form, that boing wasn’t all reverb, it was spring reverb. The reverb found on guitar amps so most usually used for guitar.
  • Chamber reverb – In the old days, studios had so called echo chambers. In these chambers they had speakers that they routed the audio signal that they wanted to put reverb on. The signal, be it guitar, voice or whatever was produced through the speakers into the chamber and picked up by a microphone that was positioned to capture the reverb in said chambers.
  • Convolution reverb – This is the type of reverb that allows digital emulation of real three-dimensional spaces. If you’re familiar with the famous reverb plugin Altiverb, then you have heard convolution reverb. In order to capture a room’s reverb characteristics, an “impulse” sound is played in a real space, such as an opera house or a cathedral, then recorded into a computer. The impulse sound allows the computer to simulate that space just from the impulse sound. This is possibly the best kind of digital reverb around

So now you know a little bit about the reverb modes you most commonly work with. Below I have brainstormed a few fun tips you can use whenever you like to spice things up.

  1. A different take on reverse reverb:
    You all know the classic reverse reverb, where the reverse seems to swoosh in before the phrase of the singer or the hit of the drum. A neat trick for something different is to record an infinite reverb on a different track and then reverse it. For example, say you have a slow intermission type middle part and the part before ends on a snare hit. You can record that last snare hit on a different track with a big cathedral like reverb with infinite decay. Then you can reverse the audio part and put it low in the mix, then you have a weird controlled reverbed ambience filling out your slow part.
  2. Gated Reverb on vocals:
    Gated-reverb on vocals is something I think is pretty cool. I think this is used on the song On call, by Kings of Leon. His vocal reverb stays on while singing but cuts off abruptly when he stops. You patch your effect processor to a gate and the sound source is side-chained to the gate. That way, the gate opens and lets the reverb out whenever the singer is singing, but cuts off as soon as the sound level dips below the threshold of the gate.
  3. Making things feel bigger and bigger:
    Say you have a really spaced out Sigur Ros rock outro(I’m Icelandic, I’ve got to namedrop here) and the drums are going wild in the end. It can be fun experimenting with automating the reverb so the drums, or maybe only the snare, or everything, whatever you choose, gets bigger and bigger. I know for a fact that this can work wonders live to really give that last song a huge impact on the audience.
  4. Pan it:
    Use mono reverbs for a mono sound source and pan them to a different location in the mix. It can give an interesting impression.
  5. Put space between source and reverb:
    Using a standard room reverb, adjust the pre-delay to give the impression it is a little big bigger without making it linger too long. On vocals for example, it can give space between the singing and the reverb.
  6. Reverb only:
    Send your drums to a big reverb and solo-safe the reverb. That way you are only hearing the reverb and not the original sound source. It can make for a cool fade-in intro for a song. Especially if you add reverse reverb for the change into the real drum kit.
  7. Mix it up:
    Use different types of reverb on the same source. Mixing a couple of types of reverb can create an interesting effect.
  8. Don’t use any:
    Keep some instruments reverb-free. It can add an interesting contrast to the rest of the song. It can put a solo intrument to the forefront in a special way.
  9. Add other effects:
    Add other types of effects on the aux channel where you have your reverb. Try distorting it, phasing it or anything else you can think of.
  10. Use REAL reverb:
    Try ditching your plugins and use real reverb. Upload your audio clips to Silophone, an old grain silo that has been converted into a do-it-yourself reverb chamber. You upload audio and it is played back in the empty silo, then recorded and sent back to you as a download.
  11. I’ve decided to do an example of tip #7. I’ve taken a small snare sample and put two types of reverbs on it via an aux send. I used the Logic presets “Ambience” in the Platinum Reverb and the “Short Snare Hall” in Space Designer. Although I am using Logic, any DAW with decent reverbs works just as well.

    First audio sample has the untreated snare drum.
    [audio:original untreated snare.mp3]

    Second audio sample has the snare with a tiny bit of ambience reverb. Not a huge difference but not as dead.
    [audio:snarewambiencerev.mp3]

    Third sample has a snare hall preset. The reverb makes the snare much bigger.
    [audio:snarewhall.mp3]

    Fourth sample has both the ambience and hall reverb patches together. Notice that the predelay on the ambience preset delays the hall reverb so it enters later than the actual snare hit. Could make for an interesting sound.
    [audio:snarewboth.mp3]

    Reverb is an instrument of endless debate. Everybody has an opinion of what works best(like in everything else regarding audio). But reverb can often make or break a song, too much fills it with too much space and you can’t hear what it’s all about and too little just kills the emotion of it. So you have to take particular care in your appliance of reverb, and also be open to a lot of experimentation. Since it is such a big topic you are sure to find something interesting in your endeavours.

    Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next one to invent the next “reverb studio trick”?

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