Reverb is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of music production and audio as a whole. It commonly gets played off as a simple effect to add to your tracks, but, in reality, it’s what provides the intriguing depth within a song, enveloping listeners. Reverb isn’t as simple as it may seem, and it’s essential to understand what exactly reverb is. This article will guide you through 10 crucial steps to utilizing reverb and how it affects your production.
What Exactly is Reverb?
Reverb is the sound of many decaying reflections bouncing off of the initial sound. Reverb is modified in many different ways based on room size, wetness/dryness, and other variable factors. When you add reverb to a sound, a level of audible fatness and other depth blends with the surrounding elements. This effect also helps your production sound more full. You can also modify or “shape” this effect to sound like many different types of reverb. As in a cave, tunnel, or concert hall, it allows you to create reverberations that reflect a specific space.
Different Reverb Types and How to Use Them
Reverb is made primarily for analog reverb recordings. It does an excellent job of filling out the frequency range without muddying up the production. You’ll find Chamber reverb helpful with classical music and even genres like pop music.
Cathedral or Church Reverb
Just like the title suggests, Cathedral reverb is best utilized for choir ensembles, dramatic leads, or a vital organ. This style of reverb is excellent for making the audio sound more prominent and more dramatic.
This type of reverb can be fun to use as it uses noise gating to cut the reverb decay trail, giving it a distinctive echo. Gated reverb sounds great over signature leads, bass, and vocals.
You’ll find this style of reverb represented in stage or live performances. Utilizing live reverb in productions can help add an authentic, live sound to vocals, individual instruments; it’s even suitable for drum kits.
Not all reverb plug-ins can utilize convolution reverb, but it’s a fantastic option to have. It uses a digital recording and simulates the reverb within that space and its various acoustic elements. This can be a handy tool for sound designers when working on TV and film projects. It allows for a high level of customization to your reverb.
This option is relatively simple but can be a great addition to a lively track. It has a noticeable metallic sound to it that goes well with metal, rock, even blues.
It’s wise to be careful with spring reverb as it can be pretty sensitive, especially with songs that are already somewhat bright in tonality—a perfect reverb for simulating the sound of spring reverb from guitar amplifiers.
The Parameters of Reverb
It’s essential to understand how to apply the correct type of reverb to your track correctly. Knowing what the parameters are and how to use them correctly can easily take your production to the next level. Below, we’ll talk about a few of the critical parameters in more detail.
This one is pretty simple; pre-delay is the time it takes for the reflections to trigger after the initial sound source has been played.
This parameter determines the complexity of the reverb itself. Diffusion allows you to set the density or shape of the reverb, which you can manipulate to sound thinner or fatter.
One of the most critical parameters, the mix is how you control the balance between your wet and dry signals. When you increase your dry signal, more of the original sound shines through, and with higher wet values, you’ll get more reverb. This is where you should be finding your perfect balance between the original sound and the power of the reverb you’re using.
When it comes to the size of your reverb, this is referencing how long your reverb reflections are. To give a visualization, when you increase the reverb size, you’re essentially increasing the size of the reverbs room.
These should be understood clearly, as this is the first part of the reverb you’ll hear. The early reflections perform alone compared to the rest of the reverb you hear on the tail. So, you’ll want to make sure those hit right as the listener will pick up on them first.
10 Steps to Utilizing Reverb
You don’t want to slap reverb on a track and call it a day. It needs fine-tuning to be able to mesh with the original sonics of your production. Of course, music is a subjective art, and you should choose the reverb you like best. Although, there are a few essential pointers to utilize, regardless of the type of reverb you select.
1. Select Your Reverb Type
In most cases, the reverb plug-in you have more than likely has presets available. It’s always good to find a solid-sounding preset and then tweak the parameters from there. It’s essential to choose a reverb that blends with the sonics of your production. Always remember, reverb is excellent for filling dry space. So, look for areas in your track that may be a bit too dry and think about which reverb would be best to fill that space.
2. Set Your Pre-Delay
Finding the right setting for pre-delay is crucial. If this parameter isn’t set correctly, it can end up making your whole production sound off tempo-wise. If you’re looking at a medium-sized pre-delay, this will give a slight delay to your reverb. This is important to note as it allows more time for the original sound to shine through before the reverb kicks in. It is allowing for a good balance between the two.
3. Set Your Level of Diffusion
When trying to determine your diffusion level, it’s essential to note the EQ in the song. If you already have other reverberations or wetness within the production, you may want to take a lighter approach with the diffusion. This would be a flatter-sounding reverb, good for not cluttering up the track or clashing with other reverberations. A higher diffusion level would sound more enveloping and fatter overall.
4. Set Your Decay Parameters
Given decay determines how long it takes before your reverb comes to an end, it’s imperative that you correlate this parameter with the reverbs size. When size controls the amount of room in the reverb, decay plays a vital role in ensuring that room size comes to a fitting end. If your room size is comparable to a church, then you’d want the decay to drag out a little bit, as reverb within a church tends to last longer than just a second or two.
When it comes to longer reverbs, they tend to bleed over into other notes and frequencies, which can clutter up your production as a whole. So, longer reverbs should be kept a bit quieter than short reverbs, as they tend to leave more open space between notes and frequencies.
5. Decide on Your Mix Levels
Finding the right balance between the original sound and the amount of reverb you want to hear is one of the most vital parameters to get right. To find the perfect mix, you should pay very close attention to the track’s current dry/wet mix. Your mix should be your guide for where to set your reverb mix levels. Trust your ears!
6. Reflection Level Placement
The listener’s ears will pick up on all of the reflections, and as I previously stated, reflections can not only muddy up a track but also throw off the track’s tempo. It’s best to approach reflections like an echo, as that’s how it sounds in many cases.
If you want a bolder reflection, up the volume on the reflections and have them come in earlier. Regardless of this note, it’s essential to focus on how the reflections blend with other notes and the track’s tempo. You want the reflections to sound like they’re having a conversation with each other, not talking over each other.
7. High-Frequency Attenuation
This pertains to reducing the high frequencies going into the reverb itself. Too many high frequencies, and your reverb can sound very metallic. To help reduce this, start removing high starting around 4k-8kHz.
8. Gated Reverb
As previously mentioned, this determines the level at which the reverb tail cuts off. This was a viral effect in the ’80s but still has plenty of uses in modern music today.
9. Depth of Modulation
Some reverb plug-ins allow for modulation of the reverb effect itself. This will enable you to manipulate the characteristics of the reverb. Using this parameter generally helps your reverb sound more animated and less stagnant.
Damping is excellent for reverberations with too sharp sounds, generally due to pesky high frequencies. This will affect the overall tone of the reverb, but it will also provide a warmer sound that will allow your reverb to blend better with the rest of the sonics in the track. Damping, in general, is best approached as an “opposite” tool. More damping to lessen the brightness of the song or little damping to give it a bit more “air.”
Coming Full Circle
With all of the details discussed here today about reverb parameters, the do’s and don’ts, and various reverb types, you can start your next production knowing exactly how to apply it.
Remember, reverb can be easily overdone in any production. Make sure to use your ears in conjunction with the reverb parameters rules, and you’ll have a perfect atmosphere every time.