What is a reverb in music production – that’s an interesting subject. In this article I’ll be discussing different kinds and roles of reverb in music production.
Introduction to reverb
In real life, natural reverb is everywhere you are, and most often than not you don’t even pay attention it’s there. When sitting in your room, having discussions with your friends, you’ll mostly be hearing the early reflections that bounce off the walls around you back into your ears. Early reflections are the first stage of reverb, which happen almost instantaneously, and they greatly define the space you are in.
If you go to a nightclub with music playing and lots of people talking, you’ll be instantly struck with the ambience in the club. Ambience will provide a distinct characteristic for a location.
Now, when you enter a large church or cathedral, you’ll be hearing the long, decaying reverb tail. Whenever something is said in there, it takes time until the sound is fully gone, usually multiple seconds. So there is a contrast between your room and the cathedral in reverberation.
What to learn here is, when you are able to understand different characteristics of reverberation, you’ll be off to a very good start in your music productions.
Defining the song
Music can be easily defined with the use of reverb. Classic hip hop records are generally very dry, with very little or no reverb, whereas rock records from the 80s are drowned in huge reverbs. Orchestral music is laying in a bed of reverb and classic jazz has a tight club-like ambience in it.
With modern reverberation plugins, it is quite easy to create a custom reverb sound, which works just how you intend it to. And the good thing about reverb plugins is, you can create any kind of reverb with them.
Different roles of reverb
- Creating space and depth
With reverb, you can create or emulate any kind of space you could imagine. Be it a cold bathroom ambience, concert hall acoustics or an echo off a canyon. With the right kind of reverb, you can add “3D”-like depth to your productions.
- Making instruments belong in the same space
If the instruments weren’t recorded live in the same actual space, this is especially useful. Creating a slight ambience for drums or a large hall –type effect for vocals can glue them together in a very natural way.
- Remedy for the “dry instrument syndrome”
Is something too dry? Just feed your instruments into a bit of reverb, and the problem is usually gone. Generally, things sound more pleasant when they are not totally dry and “in your face”. Something to remember though, not everything needs to have reverb.
- Instrument separation
This is an important one. Inserting different kinds of reverb to different instruments of your track can greatly increase the separation between them. You can, for example, make the keyboards float in the back of your soundstage by drowning them in large reverb, and you can have your vocals up front by treating them with some sweet ambience or early reflections.
- Giving music character
Do you want to make a dreamy piece of music full of beautiful, lush reverbs, or do you want to create a pop song with fast, echo-type reverbs? You have the freedom to do any of it. Or create a totally new, unique character to your own song!
- Special effects
One of my favorite uses of reverb is to create huge special effects. You could create otherworldly soundscapes and introduce different parts of your song by creating transitions with reverb and automating it. Be creative and break the shackles of all the “rules of reverb”, because there are none!
How to use reverb in your DAW
There are two main ways to use reverb:
Very often, you’ll want to use reverb as a send effect instead of an insert straight on the track. Using the send method is useful when wanting to feed many instruments into the same reverb, by sending custom amounts of each instrument to it.
You just need to create an “auxiliary” track in your DAW and insert the reverb there as 100% wet so the reverb is the only sound coming through from that track. Then you can “send” anything you want to that reverb aux track by routing instruments to it. The reverb won’t be interfering with the instruments’ own plugin chains with this method, and the reverb can be processed and EQ’s as you wish.
There are cases when using reverb as an insert works better. If you want, for example, make something totally reverberated so no dry signal is left, just insert a reverb on a track and make its output 100% wet. You can also control the amount of wetness with the dry/wet knob.
Now that these methods are out of the way, how to use reverb correctly, then? Well let me tell you. There is no correct way to use them. Get crazy with reverbs, use and abuse them as much as you like! Personally, I have created some of the most incredible sounds by totally drowning sounds with reverb.
Don’t listen to any mixing “rules” on how to apply reverb, because honestly, where’s the fun in making music if you wouldn’t be allowed to play with the reverb?
Usual reverb types in plugins
Very 1980’s. A plate reverb’s unique character are bright, clean and lush. I think plates are good overall reverbs and work especially well for drums.
Halls tend to provide a huge, decaying space, which is perfect for certain instruments such as acoustic guitars and vocals. What’s not to love in a hall reverb?
Rooms are exactly what they say, they emulate real rooms. Very natural drum kit sounds can be achieved with a nice room reverb. Room reverbs are very high in early reflections, which reproduce the feel of actual rooms.
This is one of my favorites for drums. Chambers are very dense and have a nice, full character to them.
Ambience is useful when you want to set something in a certain space, without creating much of a reverberated feel to an instrument. Using ambience “shifts” whatever you put through it into its own characteristic space in the sound stage. The decay of the reverb is usually very short so there would be no notable tail to the reverb.
Plugins worth trying
Valhalla VintageVerb is by far my most used reverb plugin, and my go-to for reverb needs. VintageVerb has an amazing sound, and any kind of reverb patch ranging from the smallest ambience to the largest spaces. The VintageVerb is also amazingly cheap (only $50), with a great ratio in quality and price.
Valhalla Room is very precise and capable reverb. Where VintageVerb has tons of “vintage” character, Room is designed so its user could create any kind of space they want. The sound is a little bit cleaner and natural compared to the VintageVerb. Valhalla Room is a great allround reverb.
Even though marketed as a delay plugin, EchoBoy by Soundtoys has a nice reverb algorithm which I find useful especially for long, pad-like sounds and evolving, sustained instruments. The reverb in EchoBoy has tons of character and authenticity.
The default reverb in your DAW
Don’t underestimate the power of your DAW’s own reverb. All DAWs are supplied with at least one. No doubt you’ll get better quality reverbs with money from third parties, but the reverb in your DAW is more than enough to get you by.
Reverb can be your ticket to the “pro-factor” in your music. Choose the right reverb for your material, and they will shine. Remember to experiment, as you never know what you will get out of a reverb. So go on and create your own rules with reverbs, and you’ll be a step closer to a unique sound of your own.
Any questions and comments, please leave them below and I’ll get back to you.