When it comes to reverb, a good rule of thumb is that ‘less is more’. Whilst big, long reverbs can sound impressive, overdoing it can quickly cause your mix to feel washed out, and lack intelligibility, turning a great mix into a bad one.
In this lesson, we’ll look at a few things you can do to keep your reverbs under control.
Add too much, then dial it back:
A great method to use when applying reverb is to add too much and then dial it back to an appropriate level. Add a ton of reverb to start with, and then keep reducing it until you reach a point where there is just enough reverb to complement the dry signal.
If you do it the other way around and gradually increase the reverb until you feel like you’ve added enough, you’ll almost always add significantly more reverb than you actually need. So this is a great way to apply a controlled amount of reverb. It’s a process that also works really well for EQ and compression too.
With reverb, it’s important to think about your decay times. In general, faster songs, songs with busier parts, and songs with a lot of tracks, generally require shorter decay times. Whereas slower songs, songs with sparser parts, and songs with low track counts, usually allow for longer decay times.
A slow song, a song with a sparse arrangement, or a mix with a low track count, can be enhanced with a larger reverb and a longer decay that will fill out time gaps and adds a welcome addition to the mix. Conversely, faster songs, busier parts, or mixes with a lot of tracks, benefit from a shorter, smaller reverb to keep things under control. In such a mix, a longer, larger reverb would stand to mask the dry signals and reduce intelligibility.
Be sure to keep this in mind when choosing your reverbs. In general, larger spaces have longer decays. Smaller spaces have shorter decays. Shorter and smaller sounding reverbs can be achieved with things like rooms. Meanwhile, longer, larger reverbs can be achieved using halls and churches. Chambers often lay somewhere in between.
Dialling in the decay:
With just about any reverb, you’ll want to tailor its decay time to suit the mix. A great way to approach this is to make sure that the reverb from one note or chord isn’t so long that it spills over onto the next. For example, make sure that the snare reverb fades away before the next snare hit comes along. Similarly, make sure that the reverb from one vocal line or word has finished before the next line is sung. Otherwise, the reverb can really overpower the dry signal.
Subtle vs obvious:
Different amounts of reverb suit different tracks. Reverbs can often be very subtle. Sometimes a reverb may be so subtle that you barely perceive it. It’s not until you mute the reverb return aux track that you hear the difference. That said, reverb can be very obvious too…
‘Less is more’ is certainly not a hard and fast rule. There are times when a longer, thicker, and more luscious reverb will compliment a mix perfectly. A song featuring just piano and vocals will likely be enhanced by a longer, larger reverb. But the same reverb would quickly mask and reduce intelligibility in a mix with layers upon layers of tracks. So it’s important to strike the right balance and approach reverb in a way that suits each song.
Make sure it sounds good in the mix, not in solo:
Finally, as one last piece of advice, remember that your reverbs need to sound good in the context of the whole mix, not just in solo. Whilst listening to a single soloed track and its reverb can sound immersive and impressive, you need to know how that reverb will affect and interact with the mix as a whole to know that it’s not masking anything else in the mix.
Keep these things in mind when you apply reverb, and you’ll be on your way to achieving perfect reverb in your mixes. How do you go about applying reverb to your songs? What are your go-to moves? Leave a comment below.
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