How To Use Reverb | Rob Mills’ Mixing Blog # 3
Another rare sunny afternoon meant we lunched once more in the pub by the green. The class is now very at ease and small pockets of animated conversation could be heard along the length of the table. Naturally most of this conversation is about music. That morning we had been learning about reverb – something everyone can use but most don’t make the most of.
Personally, I had learnt that morning that I’d been too inclined to use reverb as an ‘insert’, only using it on an effect channel in cases where I’d definitely be sending more than one source to be processed. Al had stressed to the class that it was better to almost always send the reverb on a bus. One advantage I found with this approach was that it allowed me to solo a wholly wet track of reverb and to get a deep sense of the sound and ambience I was introducing to my mix. On top of that, most people who know how to use reverb properly use sends so you can use the reverb on other elements of your song keeping things tidier and it also saves on processing power.
True to form, Al had made sure that every base was covered, explaining not only how to use reverb, but the science behind reverb, and the unnaturalness of very dry sounds. He accompanied this part of the class with a picture of an anechoic chamber and an interesting aside about the composer John Cage’s experience of one. We were also shown an image of an echo chamber and were introduced to the possibility of adding real-world reverb to a track, before being played the first ever song to use such a method – back in 1913.
Being a guitarist, I am familiar with the sound of spring reverb. From working with various plug-ins, I was also aware of the many other sounds reverb can provide. However, I found it interesting to learn about the actual mechanics behind plate reverb, and to be shown a photograph of the inside of a large, hefty unit from the 60s. Al’s demonstration of the lushness this kind of reverb could provide was also new to me, as I had always tended to favour digital emulations of spaces when mixing. Of course, digital reverb was also covered, as was convolution reverb – a distinction that wouldn’t have meant much to me before that morning.
Before we had left for lunch, the class had each been practising how to use reverb to a drum kit to provide a sense of space. We’d been talked through all of the parameters you can control in the digital domain, and were given time to get to grips with the subtle changes these can bring. On returning, the class promptly picked up where it had left off, and Al demonstrated how subtly introducing reverb to an instrument track can really liven things up. He stressed the importance of creating a ‘performance space’ shared by various instruments, which was a point I found interesting because I had always simply opted to find a particular reverb that ‘worked’ for the sound I was focussed on.
More advanced uses of this effect were also covered – including automating reverb as well as gated, panned and reverse reverbs. The latter was demonstrated to us in detail, before the class was given a go to help the three-stage process sink in. It’s an interesting effect and I’m glad I now know how to do it.
After the short afternoon break we were talked through the effect of delay and the various ways that this can be put to use – including ducking delays – as well as how delay times can be used to create automatic double-tracking. Naturally, the class was given plenty of time to experiment with these new techniques on the tracks we are working on, before the day was rounded-off by demonstrating how flangers, phasers and chorus effects can be used to add an extra quality to certain sources. Al had sourced a track for each of these effects that demonstrated them being put to good use.
As someone who has played guitar for many years, I am as aware of flangers and phasers as I am of spring reverb – but this week’s class surprised me by how much I learnt. I had always been aware of the importance of reverb and invested in decent reverb plug-ins, but I had under-appreciated the breadth of useful sounds that can be acquired with a little inventiveness. I will surely spend a little more time now on enticing a better sound from my plug-ins – not least because the effect is so much easier to gauge when used as a ‘send’ effect rather than an ‘insert’. Also, the band I’m in at the moment have a strange, eerie tune in 6/8 that is just begging for some ducking delay…