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.
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.
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.