Posts Tagged ‘ Reverb ’

Why you need direction and focus in your mix

Every mix needs direction and focus. Like almost everything else in life, you need to have a pretty clear idea of what you’re about to do *before* you do it. You have to go into it knowing what you want.

If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to get it?

A mix is no different. Before you even start adjusting EQ or patching in compressors, you need to know how you want to end result to sound. Not necessarily the exact settings (although ballpark would be good!), but you certainly need to know the following:

  • Which sounds will be in the foreground? I’ve written a lot about depth already. Without a clear focus in the mix, you’ll end up trying to make everything louder than everything else… with predictably bad results.
  • What will the overall tonality of the mix be? (eg – light, deep, thick, saturated, acoustic, etc). Unless you know this, your mix will likely end up mediocre (even if it’s a decent functional mix!)
  • What ambience does the mix need? (eg – short/long, lush/dry, deep/shallow, natural/unnatural). This needs to be decided in the context of the speed, depth and tonality of the mix. Rather than loading up a reverb and twiddling the controls until it ‘sounds good’, take the time to think carefully about the ambience of the mix before you reach for any reverb.


Make your synths bigger!

Everyone wants bigger synths, don’t they? What’s the secret? Is there some miraculous plugin or hardware device that the Big Names know about (and keep secret from all the anonymous internet jerks)? Or maybe it’s a special combination of side-chained multiband mid/side compression alongside fully parametric dynamic EQ and three different limiters is series (in the right order!).

Actually, it’s quite simple. You probably already know how to do this. Most of the time, all it takes is three things:

  • Wide frequency range. This is just what it sounds like – prominent highs and lows. Depending on your mix, you might not be able to extend the highs or lows as far as you’d like, especially if you’re cutting off the top end with a lowpass filter or your bottom end is competing with your kick and bass. Still, keep this principal in mind and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Unison. What’s bigger than one synth voice? Many synth voices. This technique is hardly new – orchestras often have ten or twenty violins playing the same part and choirs achieve a huge sound through many voices. Remember that the more voices you add, the less definition will be present in the sound. As always, you will need to find a balance, and it will depend on the part and the mix.
  • Spacious reverb/delay. Don’t think ‘wet’ – think long (pre)delay time, wide stereo image, high diffusion. This is not to make the sound ‘reverberant’, but to give it a dramatic sense of space. Of course, the specifics will depend on the part and the mix. Sometimes delays can be useful even in a reverb-heavy delay-light mix – it’ll add ambience and space with more definition.

But really, take a step back.


What are you doing?

Be careful that you’re not just making things messy. Big synth sounds often don’t need much more than wide frequency range (prominent highs and lows), unison, and spacious reverb/delay.

In fact, your synths are probably big enough already. The real questions is – what are you really trying to achieve? Are you trying to beef up your synths to compensate for something else (no, not that something else!)? Or are you avoiding having to address other issues? Are you distracting yourself from the bigger problems in your track?

Bigger synths will not make your music amazing.

They might be an essential ingredient in expressing yourself musically, but what are you expressing? Does it even matter? Are you copying your idols, or are you creating something uniquely you? What are you expressing that no-one else has expressed in that way?

What is your contribution?


Six ways to get bigger beats

Who doesn’t want bigger beats?

Well, maybe your neighbours. But maybe you don’t like your neighbours. Who am I to judge? I just supply the tools. It’s up to you to use them ethically.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Depth. Separate your drums into two groups – main foreground drums (kick and snare) and secondary background drums (hats and other percussion). Keep the rhythm of the main foreground drums simple, but make the secondary background drums a bit more complex. Make sure the foreground drums are MUCH louder than the background drums!
  • Tone. Big sounds occupy a wide frequency range. Use EQ to make your foreground drums tall. Pay particular attention to snares – they can have energy ranging from the lower mids all the way up to the highest audible frequencies. Making sure your main snare drum has energy across a wide frequency range is an important part of making your drums sound huge overall.
  • Compression. Yes, drums love compression. Everywhere else has written about this, and there’s no need to repeat it all here. Try out a bunch of compressors and see which ones you like the best.
  • Dynamics. This is not about compression. Of course you’ve read elsewhere about using compression on drums. Of course compression is important, but dynamics is more than just compression. Dynamics is the difference and changes between quiet and loud. Making sure you’ve got a good balance of quiet and loud sections in your song is key – when the loud sections come in, they’ll be very effective. If everything is loud all the time, it will be much less effective.
  • Reverb. It’s not just for pushing sounds to the background. Use a programmable reverb and set it up with the biggest size, but shortest length. This will give you a great giant sized reverb that doesn’t muddy up the mix. You won’t need to add much to the drums – just enough to give them some space. If your reverb processor is particularly good, use more of it and compress the lot – use a reverb->compression chain on a kick&snare group.
  • Space. Make sure the drums aren’t competing for space against the rest of the mix. A few huge instruments (such as a bass and lead) are ok, but if everything in your mix is big the drums simply won’t cut through with enough power. Remember – if everything is huge, nothing is huge.

There’s really not much more to it. If you can abide by these guidelines, you’ll have beats as big as you want – every time. Sucks to live next to you.


ProRec Article – Reverb Types Explained

Consider this an extension to this article – I’ve just had another article published on ProRec explaining the different kinds of reverbs commonly used in recordings. There’s good coverage of pretty much all common reverb types and good explanations, but the real jewels (in my view, at least) are the comprehensive audio examples with detailed explanations of what to listen for in each type of reverb.

Check it out here:


Reverb on the mix-bus

Under most normal circumstances, using reverb on the mix bus is no different to using a send on every track, with every send set to the same level. Usually this it not a good idea – it’s better touse sends to apply reverb in different levels to different tracks. Some sounds can ‘take’ more reverb than others. Some sounds need more reverb then others to emphasise the depth in the mix. A send level of 0dB (unity – meaning the reverb is the same level as the dry sound) might still be not enough for sustained sounds like pads and organs. On the other hand, a send level of -21dB might sound extremely wet for staccato sounds or hand percussion.

Having said that, there is a place for mix-bus reverb. While it’s not as refined or tailored as using individual sends, it is much faster. I’ve done it myself on occasion when I’ve had a project that’s up against a hard deadline. Mix-bus reverb also sounds different to individual sends when it’s placed after other mix-bus processing, such as compression or other dynamic effects (for example, NOT eq). Whether this sound is useful for you and worth the greatly-reduced flexibility is up to you.

Reverb in mastering is a slightly different matter. In this situation it’s too late to adjust the reverb in the mix, so it can only be applied to the stereo mix. Reverb may also serve a slightly different purpose when used in mastering – to make all the songs in a release have a similar ambience. This might be particularly important on compilation albums or albums with a wide variety of sonic approaches.


Alternatives to reverb

Reverb adds two properties to sounds – diffusion and depth. While there are many ways of changing the balance between diffusion and depth, there are times when a more extreme approach is required. Reverb may not be the best solution if a sound needs a lot of diffusion but very little depth, or a lot of depth but very little diffusion.

More diffusion, less depth

Diffusion is a way of blurring a sound, reducing its sharpness or distinction. A sound may need to be diffused if it needs to be pushed to the background or to fit it into a mix that is generally quite diffuse. This might need to be done in a way that doesn’t add depth if the background of the mix requires a lot of clarity or if the mix is meant to be very shallow.

In these situations, processes such as chorus, microshifting, slap delay or even true doubletracking can be appropriate.

  • Chorus diffuses the sound by adding a copy with constantly-changing pitch and timing. This can be appropriate if the sound will benefit from the added movement and the constantly-changing pitch is not distracting.
  • For situations when the movement or pitch modulation are not appropriate, microshifting might be a better solution. This is commonly implemented as a pitch shift of a few cents down on one side of the stereo space and a pitch shift of a few cents up on the other side of the stereo space. This can give a very big sound that stretches across the stereo space, but doesn’t have the modulated sound that chorus adds, and doesn’t have the added depth or tail that reverb adds.
  • Slap delay is shorthand for any quick delay with a delay time roughly between 30ms and 150ms. The delay time should be determined by the nature of the sound – the delay time and level should be set so that the delayed sound blends smoothly with the original sound. Slap delay can be useful when a sound needs less diffusion and more depth than chorus or microshifting, but not as much depth as a reverb might add.
  • True doubletracking is a process of using two  different takes of the same part being played simultaneously. The natural, human variations between the two takes will make them slightly different – different enough to create a different sound when both takes are combined. This is a popular technique for guitars and vocals because it can be used to create a very big sound while still sounding much more natural than applying chorus or microshifting.

Depth, no diffusion

Depth is a sense of distance – particularly a distance between the foreground and background of the mix. A shallow mix will have very little distance between the foreground and background, a deep mix will have a lot of distance between the foreground and background. Usually sounds are pushed to the background by adding both depth and diffusion, but in some cases it is useful to add depth without diffusion. A mix might need to be very deep, but also very sharp and clear (which would require diffusion to be minimised). In other cases,a mix might already be quite diffuse, and depth has to be created by using more obvious means (because regular reverb would be lost in the general diffusion of the mix).

In these situations, delay is often the most appropriate tool. Longer delays (>150ms) should work best. When tuning a delay for depth, rather than rhythmic complexity, it’s often worthwhile tuning it by ear instead of snapping to the song’s tempo. The sense of depth will come from hearing the echos between the notes. This may be difficult if a tempo delay is causing the echos to be perfectly timed to sound underneath foreground elements (so that the background echos are masked by the foreground elements). Making the delay more audible by tuning it in between tempo times will also allow the delay to be at a lower volume. This will enhance the sense of depth in the mix.


Mixing with multiple reverbs

One way to contruct a subtle and complex ambience in a mix is to combine two different approaches to reverb. Going about this in an informed, deliberate way will result in a much more refined and appropriate sound than by simply stacking two different reverb algorithms (either in parallel or – heaven forbid – serial).

One way to approach it is to think about foreground and background. Often using a single reverb results in an ambience that sits primarily in the forground (resulting in a shallower mix) or in the background (resulting in a relatively dry foreground). Using two reverbs might allow a mix the benefit of both the foreground ambience (for softness and blurriness) and background ambience (for depth and spaciousness). One way to do this is to use a plate for the foreground ambience and a hall for the background ambience. This will be most coherent if foreground sounds are mainly (if not exclusively) sent to the plate, and background sounds are mainly (if not exclusively) sent to the hall. This approach is useful if the mix calls for a lush ambience with a three-dimensional quality to it.

Another approach is to combine short and long reverbs. This can be appropriate if the song calls for a long deep ambience, but there’s no middle ground between too dry and too lush for some sounds. This way, some textural background sounds and feature sounds would use the long reverb and other sounds (particularly more percussive/articulative sounds) would use the short reverb. A hall or plate would be suitable for the long reverb, and a room or shorter plate might be suited to the short reverb. For a more unnatural sound, use a thick modulated hall for the long reverb and a non-linear reverb for the short reverb. This approach is useful for complex mixes that don’t need to have a particularly realistic acoustic sound, such as electornic music and ‘studio’ music.



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