Tag Archives: arranging

Reverb. (Where will it all end?…)

Todays Digital domain allows musicians and producers a phenomenal selection of plug-ins and treatments. From physical modelling of original spring reverbs, through mathematical models of the Grand Canyon or Wembley stadium, there is a huge wealth of possibilities out there, and with those possibilities must come responsibility.

Too often people are tempted to use whatever the’ve got, wherever they can, without a thought about how this might sound in the final mix. So lets have a quick look at a couple of scenarios, which might help you think a little more about your reverb treatments…..

 

The Basic Idea.

 

From a Guitarists point of view, reverb was an effect that gave a a ‘Twang’ on a guitar, a very satisfactory ‘ring’. Listen to early guitar groups like the Shadows and indeed early Beatles to here how the spring reverb (literally a spring in a metal box) that was a feature on a lot of early amps, was used to give depth to what otherwise would have been quite a weedy tone by todays standards.. 60’s producers seemed terribly keen on this sound, and consequently it appears on albums featuring everything from vocal groups to sitars.

From a producers point of view however,, reverb is a much more useful tool in achieving a satisfcatory end result. A good reverb can make it sound as if all the instruments you use were recorded in the same spatial area, i.e. it makes the song sound more ‘believeable’ even if the component parts are samples and virtual instruments.

A good reverb can form the glue that holds some mixes together, although it should be said, its never a good idea to rely on your effects to do that for you.

Even where a track has its own reverb applied, either because it s a live sample or a guitarists ‘tone’, a nice reverb across the master buss can allow a track its own space to stand in.

 

Avoid.

 

One thing that does make me queasy though, is when I hear a mix with a different type of reverb applied to each instrument, and none bear any relation to the next.

There is probably an argument for using different reverbs creatively, but in that case, the overall ‘believability’ will always suffer.

There are some bands/records that can get away with the Guitar on a 5 second rev tail and the Vocals on a .2ms slap back, but not too many.

 

Also be aware of how a reverb can ‘swamp’ the timbre of things like voices or violins.

Many amateur singers like to sing or at least monitor themselves with plenty of reverb.

Its not that they think it makes them sound more in tune, it just smooths out any rasps or harmonic glitches, and consequently gives the illusion of sounding more complete and less stark.

 

Early Reflections:

 

There are some reverb manufacturers who include a function within their reverbs called ‘early reflection’.

There are some manufacturers who think this is a load of cobblers.

For those of you with the option to twiddle with early reflections, the idea is that after the initial sound reaches your ears, but before the onset of proper reverberation, there are tiny ‘slaps’ of sound that come back at you from walls, ceiling etc. and using these, the brain is able to ascertain information about where the sound is with reference to its initial source.

Other manufacturers such as Lexicon, maintain that reverb is a one stop process that can’t be broken down into stages like this. Lexicon prefer words like ‘Spread’ and ‘Shape’ to describe different parts of the process, and I think I tend to agree. However,, these controls are popular with some folks, so its horses for courses I guess.

 

Pare it Back (Arranging within the Box 2)

PARE IT BACK!

 

Sometimes its possible to find yourself in the middle of a tune or song, and feeling like you have nowhere left to go. You still believe in the track, but you cant like it at the moment.

Answer: Pare it back.

 

If the song is strong enough, it should be good enough for a busker to sing it with just a guitar or accordion for backing, (remember we’re talking ‘songs’ here not electronica….)

So start hacking away at some of the tracks.

Take it back to maybe just bass and drums or guitar and percussion.

Often parts that you record later, say a string line or a 2nd piano part, are much more unexpected if you leave them alongside the main vocal or melody, taking away the obvious stuff can reveal the prettier ideas and lines.

In some cases, removing a part or a whole track can leave too big a space, but you can still make some impact by reducing volumes right down.

This way of working can actually be very creative, and allows for some radical re-thinking of your work

A Band Mentality (Arranging within the box 1…..)

A ‘BAND’ MENTALITY FOR THE SOLO MUSIC PRODUCER…..

 

One of the great things about being a musician, is the chance to play with other musicians. It is indeed the life blood of many players, allowing them to learn and grow and develop their abilities alongside other people doing the same thing.

And it shows in the music. Generally speaking a good band will bring something else to a song or track, which is seemingly more than the sum of its parts….

It comes from the communication between various band members and builds over time, to become part of the arrangement, and in some cases can turn a mediocre track into a great one.

The key is the way musicians listen to each other.

Lets delve a little deeper.

I remember being in one of my first bands, I was the youngest member at 14, the other guys were a couple of years older, but I was tall, smoked a mean cigarette, and I could play…

We used to play an eclectic mix of Rock music, and our bass player at the time had only recently taught himself to play, however, there was one tune where he had embellished the end of the verses with a line that really pushed his ability. As a consequence, knowing how proud he was of the line, I would take it upon myself to quieten down (never easy for a red blooded rock guitarist) and allow him the space for his fancy line to shine through. To this day, I can’t hear that particular track without preferring his version.

Other instances occur when people play off one another, (a good drummer can ‘Lift’ a song at will by pushing the dynamics, and everyone else in the band can instantly hear it it and respond appropriately), Bass players and Drummers tend to gel very quickly, with the Bass man able to guess what sort of fill is coming where, Singers can ‘quieten’ down the band at certain parts of a song with hand actions or fingers to lips, effectively controlling the dynamics of a track live.

So these few examples, and there are many more, show how the human element in a band, can go towards affecting the overall performance of a song, and this is something that we as music producers should bear in mind, as we sit toiling alone in our studios past midnight.

Take a song that you’ve recorded yourself, all the parts, just you.

Now listen back to it and pretend that you’re a bass player who’s just joined the band. This is the first track you’ve played on, and you want it to stand out showing what a great job you’ve done for the band. How would he play it? (and I dont mean ‘Overplay’ it!) Do the lines just ‘run’ into one another? are there any little areas that could use a little flamboyance? Is the bass REALLY playing along with the kick drum?

Are there any keyboard pads or big chords that are getting in the way of guitar parts?

Its very easy for us as lone players to play the part ‘right’ and move on, without any thought to how it would play out in a real band.

Are there any strings filling all the space in?

Is there an opportunity where a singer would quieten the band down live? This maybe something you should consider on the record itself.

Taking 5 minutes out to think like you’re in a band, can sometimes make the difference between a good track and a worldbeater.