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.


Effects on a send

Sends are an interesting component of mixer topologies. They allow a combination of mixing and parallel processing. When several channels have non-zero gain applied to a send, they are mixed together, sent through whatever processing is assigned to the send, and then returned on a new channel. The processing on the send ‘hears’ a mix of all the channels being sent to it. As the output of the processing is returned on a separate channel, it does not affect the original source channels. It also means this return channel can be managed separately to the other channels in the mixer.

The most common uses for sends is to add ambience to a mix using delay and reverb. This works particularly well for two reasons:

  1. The ambience is added ‘behind’ the sound, so that the original sound doesn’t need to be altered. This takes advantage of the parallel processing aspect of using sends.
  2. Reverb and delay are usually gain-linear, meaning they do not change their sound with different input levels.  Sending a quiet signal to a reverb will produce the same reverb sound as sending a loud signal to it (the only difference being the output level). Additionally, sending two different sounds to a reverb simultaneously has the same result as sending each sound on its own. This takes advantage of the mixing aspect of using sends.

Of course, reverb and delay aren’t the only types of processing that can be used with sends. Modulation effects such as choruses, flangers or phasers are also common. They work because they also take advantage of the characteristics of sends – they work by adding a sound to the original sound, and they are gain-linear – they work the same way regardless of what the input level is.

Increasingly, it is becoming more common to hear of people using non-traditional types of processing with sends. Interesting things happen when using processing like compression and saturation on a send, because these processes are fundamentally different to additive, gain-linear processes like reverbs, delays or modulation.

The first thing that happens when using compression or saturation on a send is that the processed audio is mixed in with the unprocessed audio. In the case of compression, this will get you parallel compression – which usually requires two duplicate tracks or a specially-designed compressor with a wet/dry control. In the case of saturation, this adds some saturated sound to the original without significatly damaging the integrity of the audio.

The other thing that happens is that you have an opportunity to use the send as a kind of parallel bus. That is, you can send audio from several channels to a single compressor or saturator (which is then brought back into the mix in parallel with the original sounds). It’s important to remember that it is a bus. For example, you might set up a compressor on a send, and send some kick and bass to it. Unlike a gain-linear process such as reverb, the compressor will respond differently to the kick and bass playing together than it would to the kick or the bass separately. The other thing to watch is that the compressor will respond differently depending on how much of the audio is sent to the compressor. Typically, the audio will be more compressed if more of it is sent to the compressor. Similarly, the audio will be more compressed when there are more active audio channels being sent to the compressor because the overall level sent to the compressor is higher. This can make mixing rather complex.


Mixing with reverb 3

Does it need short reverb or long reverb? Should the mix be lush or dry? Then start to ask the more difficult questions – Should be ambience be deep or shallow? Should it be natural or unnatural?

Short / Long: Obviously, you’ll need to adjust the reverb time. That’s not all though – other parameters can be used to change the apparent length of the reverb. Adjusting the reverb size with the length can help keep the reverb sounding natural. Some algorithmic reverbs also have frequency multipliers can change the reverb time specifically for low frequencies. How you adjust these will depend on the mix.

A longer reverb time for low frequencies can be useful in warming up a thin mix. It can also make an orchestral concert hall sound more realistic. A shorter reverb time for low frequencies would be more useful in a mix that already has a busy low end.

Lush / Dry: A lush reverb treatment will require you to use more (wet) reverb than a dry treatment. High frequency cutoff and high frequency reverb time also affect apparent lushness. The more high frequncies in the reverb, the more noticeable it is. Some algorithmic reverbs can have their attack shape adjusted too – the parameter might be called something like “shape”, “build”, or “attack”. Slowing the attack of the reverb can also affect its apparent lushness. A reverb with a fast attack is often more “invisible” because the bulk of the reverb energy is actually masked by the source sound – this can make the reverb seem drier than it actually is. Pre-delay can also serve a similar purpose in making the reverb more noticeable, albeit in a less refined manner.

Deep / Shallow: This is where things start to get difficult. Often it’s not too difficult to decide if you want to mix ambience to be deep (far away) or shallow (close). It’s more difficult to hear this depth, and most difficult to control it. Depth of ambience is the distance between the source sound and the reverberation. For deeper ambience, hall reverbs are best.  To go deeper, use a larger reverb size. Lower diffusion settings make individuals echos more audible, which can help. For extreme depth, use some pre-delay. Make sure the reverb is appropriately quieter than the source sound (don’t get too wet!). Conversely, rooms and plates are better for shallow ambience. Use a smaller reverb size and higher diffusion. High frequency response can also help – use darker reverb for deep ambience and brighter reverb for shallow ambience.

Natural / Unnatural: Natural reverb best compliments acoustic instruments. It doesn’t have to sound exactly like a specific room or acoutic space, but it should sound like an acoustic space that might reasonably exist. Convolution is an ideal choice for creating the illusion of a specific acoustic space. Algorithmic reverbs, however, are better for creating a reverberation that is tailored to the mix. Hall or room reverb algorithms are best, and should be configured within sensible boundaries. Try some presets for ideas, and don’t stray too far.


Mixing with reverb 2

Does it need short reverb or long reverb? Should the mix be lush or dry? Then start to ask the more difficult questions – Should be ambience be deep or shallow? Should it be natural or unnatural?

The answers to these questions should be based on the song.

Short / Long: This decision should primarily be based on the pace of the song. Obviously, slow songs will tend to need longer reverb and faster songs will tend to need shorter reverb. Keep in mind that pace is not the same as tempo. A song with a slow pace may still have quick tempo, and a song with a fast pace may have a slow tempo. The pace of a song depends on various factors, such as the density and syncopation of the rhythms (particularly drums and percussion) and the rate of change (both in the harmonic progression and overall structure).

Lush / Dry: This is more of a creative decision. It’s a question of how much you want reverb to be a part of the sonic signature of the mix. A lush mix is usually more dreamy and evocative, whereas a dry mix has more clarity and immediacy.

Deep / Shallow: This is where things start to get difficult. The question of whether your mix should have deep or shallow ambience is a question of depth, and it’s not directly related to the depth of the other mix elements. A mix with a big distance between foreground and background might still be best served with a shallow ambience. Similarly, a mix with a small distance between foreground and background might be best served with deep ambience. Deep ambience enhances the sense of depth and space in the mix, whereas shallow ambience enhances the softness and blurriness of the sounds. Mixes that are dry and shallow will typically have very little reverb at all.

Natural / Unnatural: Natural reverb best compliments acoustic instruments. It doesn’t have to sound exactly like a specific room or acoutic space, but it should sound like an acoustic space that might reasonably exist. A natural reverb would also be appropriate when integrating sounds such as synths and samples into a more traditional instrumentation (such as vocal pop or a band). Unnatural reverb is best suited to mixes where most of the instruments have no acoustic basis (such as drum machines and synths), or where the sound of the mix is far from representing the acoustic sound of the instruments (such as modern pop rock). Unnatural reverb takes a studio production beyond a mere recording of an event to an artform in its own right.



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