How I Like to Use Reverb

Going along with my posts on how I personally like to use some of the main tools for mixing music, this time I’m going to talk about how I like to use reverb.

The most common application is of course to make the different elements of the mix sound as if they are in the same space. Every room, concert hall and outdoor area all sound different because of the different activities and people, but for our purposes it’s important because they are all ¬†organized physically different, made of different materials and all affect the sounds in them a different way. There’s alot that goes into making all the elements ¬†sound like they’re in the same space – how much verb is already on the instrument or stem, the timbre of the instrument and how well it cuts through the rest of the mix, how forward or behind the element is in the mix (think in physical terms), the reflections of walls and other surfaces in the space – and honestly it’s all incredibly important but I find it a bit boring. It’s somewhat of an obligation in mixing as opposed to a creative decision. That’s why I was thrilled when I found out about this plug-in:

It sounds phenomenal and takes all known factors of a space into consideration. Reflections, room size, location, everything. If you don’t enjoy the process of making everything sound like it’s in the same space, you should see if you like this plugin as much as I do.

What I enjoy much more about working with reverb is it’s ability to blend and make instruments sound more real. So much of what Composers do is created electronically with sample libraries. As time goes on, these libraries sound more and more realistic and we as Composers learn how to manipulate them more and more to add to the real effect. More often than not, the attack (or beginning of the note) is what can sound fake. Some libraries sound better than others (varying samples, velocity, etc.), but hearing the same amount of pressure on a string or force of air into a woodwind instrument for every note and/or the same note is a dead fake giveaway. Reverb lessens how noticeable this effect is while at the same time giving air and space to the instrument. Verb is essential to bringing your elements to life and a must to making them sound real.

I also enjoy using reverb to blend instruments and create textures. There are many times as a Composer that I don’t necessarily want the listener to be able to hear individual elements in the mix. Sometimes, I want a couple instruments to play the same note or a cluster of notes and create a new sound or timbre. Reverb can make each element less distinguishable and blend into something new – a wonderful tool for your composition and mixing kit.

Lastly, I really enjoy automating reverb and the way it can draw a listeners attention. Imagine having a large orchestral piece with very wet reverb blending instruments and suddenly all the instruments cut out, their reverb disappears and a single guitar plays with very little or no reverb. You’ve created an effect of being in a concert hall listening from the seats and suddenly the orchestra has disappeared, you’re in a small room and the guitar is being played right next to you. A fantastic example of this is at 1:54 in Daft Punk’s “Touch.”

Moreso than just creating an interesting sonic and compositional experience, this is a great way to dramatize a narrative. You can also do the opposite, and have a very dry, small sounding element grow in body and expand the space in the mix.

These are a few ways and methods I like to use reverb and there are still a whole slew of other creative techniques and tricks both for utilitarian and creative purposes. Just start experimenting and find what works, what doesn’t, and what speaks to you as a Mixer, Composer and Artist.

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