Reverb is a beautiful effect that gives us the ability to bring a fuller sound to an instrument. Reverb can be used to spatially place an instrument in a mix such as sitting in the background. We can also kill our mix with reverb if we use too much or we use the wrong type of reverb. Here are three standard types of reverb and how they can be used…
First, let me just get this out of the way. When a singer talks between songs such as saying a prayer or reading a section of scripture, PLEASE TURN OFF THE REVERB! It's not the place for reverb and it is distracting to the congregation.
What is a good definition of reverb? Reverb is an effect which modifies an existing sound so it appears to take on the audio characteristics of a unique space. The reverb in a bathroom is not the same as the reverb in a grand hall but both sounds are distinctly reverberations.
Recording studios can use reverb to make a song sound like it was recorded in an intimate space or a huge concert venue. The way we use it in the live environment is similar but a little different. For example, I could place a lot of reverb on a singer's voice so as they sound like they are singing in a opera hall. However, if I were to do so in a very small church then the congregation will hear the sound and find it doesn't fit. In short, their ears tell them it's a lie. That is to say, what can be acceptable in a recording isn't always acceptable in the live environment.
In the live environment, we can use reverb to add spatial distant in a mix. For example, you can make backup singers "sit back" in the mix by giving them some reverb. The more reverb, the more distance.
We can use reverb for instrumental separation. Straight on instruments with no reverb have an all-out up front sound. Adding a little reverb to a guitar or a singer and it's like taking sandpaper to a freshly built chair. It makes it smooth.
Reverb can be used to give a song a specific feel. The more reverb, the more airy and light. Not always, but when speaking about audio, there are very few absolutes.
There are three common types of reverb; room, hall, and plate.
- Room: Everything about room reverb is small. It has the characteristics of a small room. It adds a little depth and a little space. Also, it's a short time period of reverb.
- Hall: "WELCOME TO THE VELODROME-OME-OME-OME-OME!" Hall reverb lasts a longer period of time and carries more reflection. It carries a larger fuller sound. The smallest of halls is still bigger than the largest of rooms.
- Plate: Plate reverb is the sound a plate makes when you accidentally drop it in the kitchen and the sound echoes throughout the house…ok, maybe not. Plate reverb does not emulate any specific space. Plate reverb is created through sound vibrating a metal plate at the end of a tube. This metal plate vibrates rapidly. This reverbed sound therefore carries a lot of early reflection. You might even say it has a heavy feeling. Plate reverb is popular with drums. A benefit of plate reverb is it gives the thicker sound you might associate with a hall reverb but for a shorter period of time.
The next time you start your mixing, remember that reverb carries a lot of power that's just waiting to be unleashed.
Oops, I almost forgot…when mixing, EQ your instruments before you add any reverb. Going back to the sandpaper analogy, you always use sandpaper last.
Question(s): Are you one of the people who have never messed with effects like reverb when mixing? If so, why? If you do use effects, what tip would you give a fellow sound guy?