Usually, most people think of reverb as something that they simply put on an audio track as a pre-requisite to getting a mix done. It’s become, expected, but the real question is, why?
What if there was more to it than that, and we had some ways you could rethink your approach to utilizing reverb on music to generate space, depth, dimension, the illusion of every instrument being in the same room in a 3-dimensional space, and more?
I’m going to run through a couple of really advanced reverb techniques, that can go a long way in making things simple.
The first step to mastering advanced reverb techniques, is, as always, mindset.
Just as this should be your approach when applying EQ and Compression, you should be also being incredibly thoughtful when applying reverb.
What does the reverb tell about the story of the song? What does it do to generate a flow, a build-up, a transition, a journey?
Is it static? If so, why have you left it so, or why should it be static?
Is the reverb overcrowding the beginning of the next sentence of a vocalist?
So many questions, so much to consider.
You have to start at the beginning, and truly ask yourself the questions honestly, at every point in the song. Try to get yourself to understand what your song needs to achieve for its listening process.
Flow and Overcrowding:
Let’s start with a standard, main reverb that is meant to add life, width, and smooth out a vocal performance.
Let’s start with a stock reverb in your DAW. Set the decay time to between 1.3s and 5s as an experiment.
I want you to listen intently to where the reverb ends, and where the next sentence of your vocal comes in. Does it spill over into the next sentence? What decay time would you have to set for the reverb to fall slightly short of that, while also not leaving an uncomfortable gap?
Maybe, the verse of a song sounds better with a much shorter reverb. Often, in commercial music, you’ll find that the mixing engineer starts the verse with a very short reverb, often at less volume, then increases the decay time with automation in the pre-chorus and then even more in the chorus. Often, they’ll actually even automate the volume of the reverb up in the chorus as well.
This methodology provides a great progression to the journey of a song and actually helps keep the song from becoming stale and stagnant. It helps build up a song, and gives the listener something to identify with.
This is, of course, only one way of approaching it. Reverb can be exceptionally dynamic.
Pre - Delay:
You’ve maybe seen it before but might not know what it’s doing. Simply put, it shifts the time of when the reverb starts by whichever amount of milliseconds you designate.
This can be exceptionally useful if you’d like the clarity of your pronunciation to be present. For example, you could move the milliseconds up by 50 or 100 and likely have more space for your main vocals pronunciation to be audible.
Sometimes, you could combine pre-delay with adding a sidechain compressor on the reverb track (sidechaining to the dry main vocal) to slightly push that reverb out of the way when the main dry vocal is singing, and then come up again once the main vocal takes a pause. The reverb side chaining on a vocal is quite commonplace but yields quite nice results combined with a slightly shifted pre-delay.
Often, mixing engineers who work on stuff like the Weeknd, generally place a relatively long decay reverb under the vocal to create an ambiance bed. The main reverb they use is often one going upward of 10 to 20 seconds.
This sounds insane, but it’s also one of the best-kept secrets in the industry for certain sections of a song. It’s so long, it stops becoming reverb for specific words and tends to become something that just surrounds the vocal and gently gets blended in.
At this point, there’s not much point in moving the pre-delay forward because the reverb is so long, it won’t exactly matter too much. You can experiment with that, though. What you might find helpful in this situation is putting a sidechain compressor on the end of the reverb, bringing it down in volume slightly when the main vocal is singing. The ideal mindset with this type of reverb is to not have it too loud in the first place but use it as something that adds to the performance, not smothers it.
Old School Room Technique:
An exciting approach to creating the perception of everything being in one real-life space would be to make a fairly short decay time reverb track(100% wet), then create an auxiliary/bus track for each track in your mix. Next, add a simple stock delay plugin(with no filters, etc.) on each one, and make sure each delay ranges from 20ms to 100ms on both sides equally(each delay plugin must have a slightly different millisecond delay). This separates the instruments slightly, giving it the illusion that it’s in different places in the room once feeding into the reverb.
Then, take the output of each of those aux/bus tracks(the ones with the delays on them) and send it directly into the final reverb output. Then, blend the reverb into the mix of the song, and you’d be surprised at how much life this can give a track. Be sure to experiment with cutting off the low frequencies of the track to prevent any undue reverb on the bass, but it’s all up to you and how it ends up sounding in relation to the music you’re working with.
I hope these interesting reverb techniques made you think differently and possibly get you to try some new things!
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Have a good one!