How to Reverb Your Drums for an Amazing Sound

How to Reverb Your Drums for an Amazing Sound How to Reverb Your Drums for an Amazing Sound

Reverb is one of the best tools for helping your drums come to life. They can take a group of drum samples or kit pieces and glue them together to give them a cohesive sound, or create a sense of space and depth in an otherwise dry mix.

Of course, it's easy for any amateur engineer to slap on a reverb and call it a day. Unfortunately, this usually results in a washy, drowned out mix, leaving you without the punch that your drums delivered in the first place.

In this guide, we're going to go over how to use reverb on drums the right way, so you can obtain that professional, three-dimensional sound that you hear on so many professional mixes.

Should I Use One Reverb or Multiple Reverbs on Drums?

This is the golden question and one I used to teeter between all the time.

What I've now come to realize after years of mixing is that the answer depends entirely on the mix.

Let's instead look at why or why not you might choose to use one reverb or multiple reverbs on your drums.

A Case for Single Reverb

  1. Cohesion : One reverb is great when you want to glue multiple drum elements in your mix together to make them sound like they were recorded in the same space. I'll often do this if I'm using samples from different packs, even if the one reverb I'm using is incredibly subtle.
  2. Simplicity and Control : Using one reverb can make the mixing process far easier. Plus, controlling and adjusting the overall reverb effect on the drums without worrying about multiple reverb settings and interactions is nice.

A Case for Multiple Reverbs

  1. Lack of Depth and Dimension : Different drum elements might benefit from different reverb treatments to enhance their role in the mix. A snare drum, for instance, might require a different type of reverb type or a different setting than toms or cymbals.
  2. Flexibility and Creativity : Multiple reverb plugins allow you to get more creative and flexible with your sound design. You can place different drum elements in various "spaces" to make your mix sound more interesting. In ambient or electronic music, this is pretty common.

Tips for Using Reverb on Drums

Once your drums are in a place where they're sounding good in the mix, it's time to start adding reverb. Here are a few tips I recommend employing to make your reverb a bit more interesting!

Create a Send

I usually use sends for my drum reverbs rather than placing them directly on the drum channels, as it allows for greater control and flexibility over the balance between the dry (unaffected) and wet (reverb-processed) signals.

By adjusting the send level, you can easily blend the right amount of reverb without altering the original drum sounds. As a result, you get the perfect balance of clarity and punch while still adding the desired spatial effects.

The added benefit is processing power conservation. Since you're only using a single reverb plugin on a send channel, you can send multiple drum elements to it rather than loading individual reverb plugins on each drum channel.

I also like to get creative with my reverbs, which is hard if they're on the direct channel. For example, I'll often apply EQ, compression, or other effects to the reverb itself to help it fit in the mix or make it more exciting. We'll dive more into this in a bit.

Put Your Kit in a "Room"

Putting your drum kit in a "room" with a room reverb is a powerful way to achieve a more cohesive and realistic sound, especially when your individual drum elements or samples come from different packs.

A room reverb, such as something you'd find in Altiverb or Valhalla Room, can simulate a unified acoustic environment, as if all the drums were recorded in the same physical space. This artificial acoustic space helps blend otherwise disparate sounds together and smoothing out any inconsistencies in reverb tails, room tone, or stereo imaging that might exist between samples from different sources.

As a result, you get a mix that sounds more natural and unified.

I'll even use a simulated room reverb if the room mic from the live drums I'm working with doesn't sound very good. For example, I recently worked on a mix in which the drums were recorded in a small garage, though I wanted the drums in the mix to sound like they were recorded in a large space. I decided to mute the room mics I was given and blend the drums into a large studio IR in Altiverb.

Find the Perfect Snare Reverb

If I had to peg any reverb as "most important" in a drum mix, it'd be the snare reverb.

The snare is usually the focal point of any drum mix, and to my ears, nothing sticks out worse than a poorly chosen snare verb. This is because the reverb you choose for the snare drum can change the vibe of the entire kit.

So, how do we approach picking the right snare reverb?

I usually like to pick a plugin, such as Valhalla VintageVerb (one of my absolute favorite reverb plugins) and start flipping through presets until I find something that I like. If a preset doesn't enhance the snare or blend seamlessly with the track within the first second of listening, it's not the right fit. Don't spend excessive time tweaking a reverb that doesn't initially sound good.

I can tell you from experience that you usually end up with reverb that sounds artificial or "tacked on."

Once you find the right reverb at the macro level, you'll know it. Then, you can start making adjustments for the decay time, pre-delay, EQ, or anything else.

Add a Delay to Your Snare Reverb

Sometimes, reverb alone doesn't cut it. In that case, try a combination of delay and reverb on the snare to give it more dimension.

Delay can give you a unique rhythmic texture, whether used subtly or obviously. Paired with reverb, it can create a sense of air around the snare, making it feel more lively. While you can certainly get creative with delays, I often find myself using a slap delay for spaciousness that doesn't crowd the mix.

A slap delay is usually between 40 and 120 milliseconds, with a low feedback setting to give you a single repetition. The result is a quick echo that mimics the sound bouncing off nearby walls, hence the term "slap."

When paired with a short reverb around 0.8 to 1.5 seconds, it can simulate the snare being in a small to mid-sized room.

Find the Right Decay Time

Beyond the type of reverb you use for your drums, the decay time might be the most important parameter to experiment with.

The decay time is how long it takes for the reverb to fade away. This directly influences the perceived size of the space in which your drums appear to be playing.

If the decay is too long, it can muddy your mix and cause your drums to lose their punch and clarity, especially in fast-paced or rhythmically complex sections. On the other hand, too short a decay might not provide enough depth to make the drums feel integrated within the overall mix.

The goal is to find a sweet spot where the reverb adds just the right amount of ambiance without overshadowing the drum's natural tone.

Start by considering the tempo of your track .

A faster track might benefit from shorter decay times to keep the mix tight and focused, while a slower, more atmospheric track might call for longer, lusher decays.

Beyond tempo, consider the genre. Rock and pop tracks usually call for punchier drums with more controlled reverb, unless you're going for an '80s-style pop track, which seems to be really in right now.

On the other hand, an ambient, experimental electronic, or ballad track might call for longer decay times.

Experimenting with different settings and listening critically in the context of the full mix are key steps in finding the decay time that complements your drums perfectly, enhancing the overall feel and dynamics of your music.

Compress Your Reverb

I love the sound of a compressed drum reverb.

Stick a compressor before your reverb, and you can control the peaks coming into it to make it smooth, though put it after, and you can extend the tail to make the reverb itself sound larger than life.

Though it might change based on the mix, I often like to go for a moderate attack time to preserve the initial transients of the reverb and a relatively quick release time that complements the tempo of the track.

Try Gated Reverb

Gated reverb is gold on snare or toms. It offers an incredibly distinctive sound that has been popular since the '80s.

Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" is a prime example of gated reverb and quite possibly the best example of an instantly recognizable drum fill in music history. Of course, there are plenty of other examples of gated reverb drums in other '80 tracks you can use for inspiration, such as:

  • "Born in the U.S.A" by Bruce Springsteen
  • "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears
  • "Somebody" by Depeche Mode

to name a few.

Gated reverb works by applying a reverb to the drum sound and then abruptly cutting it off (or gating it) at a set threshold level. This creates a unique effect that combines the spaciousness of reverb with a sudden silence.

In essence, you get depth and sustain without letting the reverb tail muddy the mix. It's perfect for a punchy, larger-than-life drum sound that can make the drums stand out prominently in a track.

Dialing in a gated reverb requires a bit of finesse and fine-tuning on the gate's threshold, attack, hold, and release settings.

Like a compressor, the threshold determines the level at which the gate closes, cutting off the reverb tail, while the attack and release settings control how quickly the reverb is applied and removed, respectively.

You can create a surprising range of effects by adjusting these parameters alone, so feel free to get experimental!

Add Reverb Directly to Toms

Unlike other drums, which often benefit from a more subtle reverb approach, toms often sound great with more obvious reverb, especially on big fills.

In this case, I'll usually break my "sends only approach" and slap a reverb directly on the toms to give them some life and space.

Chamber reverbs are often my go-to for toms, though plates and halls can work in some situations.

I like to use relatively loud early reflections with a low-pass filter to accentuate the 'boom' of the toms and high-pass the tail of the reverb to keep it from getting muddy and accentuate the crack or snap. Then, I'll dial in the Mix parameter quite low (somewhere between 15-25%, depending on what I'm looking for in the context of the mix.

You can also try messing with the pre-delay and dial in around 20-30 milliseconds to let the initial attack of the toms to cut through before the reverb kicks in to maintain the initial transients.

Give Your Overheads Some Reverb

Throwing reverb on overheads instead of the entire drum kit offers a more nuanced approach to creating a sense of space.

Overheads typically capture the cymbals and the overall ambiance of the kit, so when you apply reverb selectively to them, you enhance the spatial aspect of the cymbals and room sound without blurring the direct impact and clarity of close-mic'd elements like the snare and kick.

When I'm looking for a good reverb for overheads, I often like to opt for a room or hall that complements the natural acoustics of the drum recording.

Moderate decay times (between 1-2.5 seconds) that are tailored to the tempo and style of the music can add the perfect amount of ambiance without washing everything out.

Shift the Pitch of Your Reverb

There's a bit of magic sauce you can get from shifting the pitch of your snare reverb down. I often use this trick if I'm working with a thin snare that sounds cheap, as it adds a nice bit of resonance and body.

Start by sending your dry snare to a bus with a gate on it so you're only hearing the actual hits (not any background noise or ghost notes). Then, put a pitch shifting plugin on the send and slightly bring it down in pitch while listening in with the rest of the track. The key here is to use your ears. You don't want to bring the snare too far outside the key of the song.

If the pitch shifting alone isn't enough, you can also add a bit of harmonic distortion with a saturation plugin. This is also a nice way to distract from the fact that you just pitch-shifted the snare track down, while providing a bit of interest.

Use EQ and Distortion

If your reverb is still lacking that special sauce, you can try using EQ and distortion. I'll sometimes add a saturation plugin like Decapitator to add texture to the tail of my reverb, which can help fit it in with the rest of the mix.

If the sound of the distortion adds too much harmonic content to the low-end or high-end, you can use an EQ to filter it out.

Give Your Kick Drum Some Verb

Okay, I know what you're thinking, "everything I've ever read on the Internet told me to keep my kicks dry and in mono."

Well, sometimes, kicks need a bit of space to fill up empty real estate in a mix. Plus, a small dose of reverb can add to the low-end heft, especially if the kick is lacking bottom end.

A subtle touch of room, plate, or short hall reverb are great for making the kick feel more natural and less isolated, especially in electronic or pop productions where a sense of space contributes to the overall vibe of the track.

Just make sure to use short decay times and a high-pass filter on the reverb if the low frequencies are coming through too strong.

Less Is More

When all is said and done, I like to adopt the "less is more" approach to reverb on drums.

Overuse it, and you'll end up with a washed-out sound that buries the natural punch and driving force of your drums. This is especially true in dance music, where you want your drums to have incredible impact.

With that said, there's no reason you can't go a little crazy with reverb once in a while. Feel free to experiment! However, most often, it's a good idea to start adding reverb in small doses so that it's felt more than heard, and go from there.

Final Thoughts

I love reverb on just about everything, even if in tiny amounts, but on drums, it's especially great. With the tips and tricks in this drum reverb guide, you'll start banging out mixes that sound better and more three-dimensional.

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