Reverb is an effect that alters a sound so it may seem fuller, smoother, and/or give the sound a spacial characteristic such as sitting in the background of the mix or being in a larger room. We kill our mix with reverb when we use it the wrong way. There are three common reverb mistakes…
1. Too much
It's the 80's man, and reverb rules the roost!
Not anymore. Reverb is like sandpaper for smoothing out the wood. There are different grits of sandpaper for different types of work. In the same way, there are different types of reverb. However, as any first-time carpenter will tell you, if you use the wrong grit sandpaper or sand a spot too long, you ruin the finish of the wood. In some cases, you sand away too much wood so a shallow cavity remains in the wood. You have to replace that board and start over. The same goes for reverb. Too much and you ruin your mix.
Use enough reverb to do the job, but don't use so much that it stands out from the mix.
2. No reverb
Going back to the analogy of sandpaper, when reverb isn't used, it's typically noticeable. Room dynamics can remove the need for reverb – and I hate mixing in those rooms. Show me a hand-crafted wooden cabinet that hasn't been sanded and I'll show you an unfinished project.
Use a little reverb on vocals to start, if you've never used reverb before. You might be in a situation where you don't have any reverb effects available to you. In this case, checkout reverb rack units.
3. It's left on on on
Using any effects on the human voice means you must know what that person will be doing during the event. Take, for instance, a background singer. A little reverb, maybe a little delay, and suddenly they stop singing and start reading a passage of scripture. Those same settings that were used as part of a song mix can destroy speech intelligibility. The congregation will let you know after a service when they can't hear scripture, I guarantee!
Watch for cues on the stage and have a schedule of the songs. This will help you know when to turn off effects for a person.
One more point on reverb…
Reverb + Delay
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How about an easier question, "which is added first, reverb or delay?" Reverb and delay are two common forms of effects and because of this, their desire for usage overshadows how they should be used together.
The best way to remember when to add reverb is to imagine reverb as sandpaper. You sand down the chair you've built only after you put all the pieces together. The same with reverb. Don't touch the reverb until you are happy with the amount of delay you are using on a channel. Once you have the delay dialed in, you might not even need reverb. When you add the reverb and then the delay, you are setting yourself up for an exhausting time of going back and forth between the two effects. Save your time and remember to hit the reverb only at the end.
Question(s): How have you heard reverb used incorrectly?
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Thought? Questions? Comments?