Is your reverb swamping your track? Here’s what (not) to do.
It’s so cool to apply lots of reverb. It sounds wider, deeper, longer, warmer… better. Or does it?
Don’t apply reverbs on all your channels
Reverbs do sound good. So it’s a natural inclination to put some of it everywhere. Reverb is the natural ingredient to make a sound feel further apart, distant. If every sound has it, the whole track will sound like it’s being played in your bathroom. Too wet. So apply it only on some selected channels.
Compare this to a picture where the objects in the front are well defined whereas the ones in the background are blurred. They are not all blurred.
How many reverbs?
If you intend to use the same kind of reverbs many times (on many channels), then place one (or 2, maximum 3) on return channels. For example one short and slappy, one long and lush. Always 100% wet, always. You can then apply the amount you desire on each of the channels. Don’t overdo it, big fat reverbs on snares is so… eighties.
If a channel deserves a special reverb, then you can place a specific one there. The reverbs in your DAW are most certainly very good. But placing a Valhalla ‘verb (one of my favourites, though there are many great ones out there) on a specific channel can also give a special touch.
What is the right setting?
The right amount of reverb on a (solo’ed) channel is usually just a bit less than you think. Increase it further than what you wish, decrease it until you like it, then decrease it a little bit more. Un-solo the channel, re-listen in context, it should sound fine and blend well.
How can I make my reverb sound clearly distinct from the dry sound?
There are several ways to obtain a clearly distinct reverb:
The first setting to look at is the pre-delay. By increasing the pre-delay, the reverb will start to be heard distinctively after the dry sound. Experiment 20ms or even higher. This technique can be a life-saver for ensuring that vocals are clearly understood, as it gives the brain an opportunity to hear the syllables before they wash out into the reverb tail.
The second one is EQ. Reverbs MUST be EQ’ed. Usually the low end must be cut off, as it’s the muddiest part. The upper frequencies can vary: in some cases you’ll want your reverb to shine, so you’ll keep the high frequencies full, sometimes you’ll want the feeling that you are in a cave, so you’ll cut off the higher frequencies so that the reverb sounds more mellow. It depends on the situation (and you are creating the situation).
The third one is panning. Send your reverb to one side, or separately to both, so that the centre remains clear for the main sound. The sense of space can even become huge.
The fourth one, more advanced, is to duck the reverb when the next note of the main sound hits again. This is obtained by sidechaining the reverb output against the dry sound. Very efficient with vocals, guitar solos, etc.
Sounds good now?
Come back tomorrow. Re-listen to it with fresh ears. You’ll realise that your track still sounds a bit too wet. That’s because your ears got used to the reverb yesterday and were not noticing it any more, so you have pushed it a tad too far. Time to adjust and fine tune.
Reverb on the background elements.
So now you know. It’s not by applying reverbs everywhere that your track will sound better. But if they are well applied, it can really give a new depth to your track.