Reverb and Delay: Tips & Tricks of the Pros

REVERB TIPS AND TRICKS

For many musicians who don’t have a lot of experience mixing, adding reverb to a track can sometimes be a chore trying to come up with something that seems to fit without it either sticking out or disappearing. Here are some things to think about the next time you reach for that reverb plugin. Don’t limit yourself to just these examples, as the settings can just as easily work for other instruments in certain situations.

MicB&WReverb Tips For Vocals

Automate the delay or reverb return so that in the sparse parts of the arrangement, particularly in the beginning of the song, the vocal is less wet and more upfront and intimate, which also makes the effect less obvious.

Try mixing various reverbs. Set up three reverbs; short, medium and long (the specifics of what the actual lengths are varies with the song). On a non-ballad vocal, favor the short and medium over the long. The short (try a .3 to .6 second Room or Plate) one will thicken the sound. Blending in the medium (1.2 to 1.6 second Plate or Hall) will create a smooth transition that is quite dense but still decays fairly fast. Add a little of the longer one (2 to 3 second Hall) for whatever degree of additional decay you want. The three combined will sound like one thick reverb that will stick to the vocal and not muddy it up with excess length and diffusion.

With a singer-acoustic guitar player, try to picture the performer in an acoustic space and then realistically recreate that space around them. This lends itself to a medium sized room or a small plate, with perhaps a little more reverb on the voice than the guitar. If the vocal is wet and the guitar dry (forgetting about leakage for a moment), it’s difficult to have them both appear to share a common acoustic space.

If a vocal effect is too prominent, bring up the reverb to where you can hear it, then back off the level 2 dB. Add a dB or two at 800 to 1kHz to either the send or return of the reverb to bring out the effect without it being too in your face.

For an interesting reverse reverb effect on a vocal where it’s whooshing in before the vocal begins, set a reverb to a very long decay time (over 4 seconds) then record the reverb only onto a second track. Reverse it and move it forward on the timeline so it begins before the vocal.

Reverb Tips For Drums

For the Tommy Lee “Thunder Drums” effect, set a reverb on the “cathedral” or “large hall” setting and then add a little to each drum. Pan the reverb returns so the reverb sits behind each part of the kit. For this effect to work, the bass drum has to sound tight to begin with and have a decent amount of beater present, and all the drums should be gated with the release timed to the track.

For an “exploding snare” type of effect, add a short slap from 50 - 125 ms with a touch of feedback to the bottom snare mic. Bring the slap back on a second channel. Using an aux, send signal from both top and bottom snare mikes and the slap to a short reverb of a second or less (timed to the song). By adjusting the proportions, phase and EQ, the effect will fit it into almost any situation.

Reverb Tips For Percussion

For hand percussion like shakers and tambourines, use a medium (.8 to 1.2 seconds) room or plate reverb with either zero or very short (20ms) pre-delay.

Reverb Tips For Guitars 

To make guitars bigger, take a mono reverb and lower the decay time to as low as it will go (.1 seconds if it will go that low). Pan the guitar to one side and the reverb to the other. Try different reverb types to see which works best in the song. Increase the decay time slightly to make the sound bigger or to eliminate any metallic sounding artifacts from the reverb.

For that early Eddie Van Halen sound, use either a chamber or plate reverb set to about 2 seconds decay time and around 120 ms predelay that’s timed to the track. Pan the guitar to one side and the reverb to the other.

Reverb Tips For Keyboards

For a keyboard pad sound that melts into the track, use a hall reverb with a 2 to 2.5 second decay and a short (20 ms) pre-delay that’s timed to the track. Set any EQ or filters so that the extreme high and low ends are rolled off to about 8kHz and 150Hz.

Reverb Tips For Strings

Use a hall reverb set to between 2.2 to 2.6 seconds with a pre-delay of at least 20 ms timed to the track.

* To make an effect stick out, brighten it up.

* To make an effect blend in, darken it up (filter out the highs).

* If the part is busy (as with drums), roll off the low end to keep it out of the way.

* If the part is open, add low end to the effect to fill in the space.

* If the source part is mono and panned hard to one side, make one side of the stereo effect brighter and the other darker and pan the brighter side opposite the source track.

That’s a lot of things to try the next time you’re mixing, but you’ll find that at least some of the above will improve your mix by a mile. If you want more tips and tricks, check out the books and video courses cited below.

By Bobby Owsinski

miniBio: Bobby Owsinski is the author of 16 books on recording, music and the music business as well as several video courses for Lynda.com, including Audio Recording Techniques and the Audio Mixing Bootcamp. Get additional info from his website at http://bobbyowsinski.com.

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