Reverb & Delay

Reverb: The Secret Ingredient to Music Production

It's no secret that reverb is one of the most important elements in music production. Without it, songs would sound flat and lifeless. Learn more about reverberation in this article.

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Black Rooster Audio 18 Nov 2022

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

Reverb is defined by the reflections of sound waves bouncing back from the surroundings, reaching your ear with small delay. Basically there are direct early reflection, that are very noticeable, while the complex multi-reflected signals add up to the indistinct, sometimes long lasting reverb sustain. Both, the early reflections and the sustain define the characteristics of the space the signal has been captured in.

With the right amount of reverb, we can create a sense of space and depth that brings our music to life. In short, it's an effect that creates a sense of space and depth.

Reverb is often described as the "room" effect (not to be confused with the “echo” effect, which refers to the world of delays). In music production there are a quite lot of different types of reverb room effects utilized. Some are subtle and barely noticeable, while others are more pronounced.

When using reverb in the process of music production, it's important to find the right balance. Too much reverb can make our mixes sound muddy and unclear. On the other hand, too little reverb can make them sound flat and boring. But not only that — choosing the right “room” and balancing throughout the channels can completely change your track, making it sound real, vintage, synthetic or artificial. It's the fine-tuning of the parameters, that will create your space.

So why is reverb so important? Because it can make - or break - your mix.

With the right amount of reverb, we’re able to create a sense of space and depth that brings our songs to life. Without this effect, music would sound pale and lifeless. Want to master the use of reverberation in your music production? Read on.

Reverb - an essential component in music production

Reverb can be the key ingredient that takes your track from good to great. But what makes it so indispensable?

As mentioned before, reverb is simply the reflection of sound from surfaces. When a sound is produced, it will bounce off of surfaces such as walls, the ceiling, and floor before reaching your ears. The different reflections of that same signal, reaching our ears with little delay, create a sense of space and depth in the music.

By adding reverb to your tracks, you can create a more realistic and immersive listening experience, than with a dry signal (near field effect).

There are multiple psychological effects that reverberation will have an influence on. Very dry signals, for example, sound more intimate, while simultaneously causing tension and anxiety due to their artificial dryness. There are no pure dry sounds in nature, where everything comes with a reverb, and every reverb basically shapes our understanding of the environment we are in. This means that we are able to understand and distinguish our surroundings through the type, structure and amount of reflection that we hear. Every room, church hall, forest, landscape, you name it, has its own signature reverb ‘fingerprint’, which we utilize and re-implement within reverb processors in order to virtually take the listener to that location.

With reverberation as part of our mixing arsenal, we have the ability to create the exact sound atmosphere that we want our listeners to experience and explore.

Furthermore, through reverb we are able to reposition our sources, like instruments our vocals, in a three-dimensional space. Not only are we able to horizontally “pan” the signals in the stereo field, but we are also able to position how close or far the listener is from the guitar, piano, or backing vocals.

A perfect example would be Céline Dion’s - “All by myself”, which portrays the singer in a large hall, with a broad and deep band/orchestra behind her, but with a rather intimate bass, that guides the listener by its pulse. The bridge also has a close piano that would later re-open in depth to wander around Céline. This is an example of exceptional mixing and mastering work.

The different types of reverb

There are many different types of reverbs available, each with its own unique sound. Some common types of reverbs include:

Room reverbs:

These are designed to simulate the natural reverberation of a room. They usually have a fairly short decay time, which makes them well-suited for creating a sense of space without washing out the mix. “Room reverbs” were real rooms initially, that production teams travelled the world for, in order to identify the perfect recording environment for their needs. In todays plug-in based productions, you will still often find reverbs that utilize impulse responses from existing rooms to mimic their corresponding reverb.

Plate reverbs:

These are artificial reverb units that use a metal plate to create reflections. Plate reverbs tend to have a very smooth and polished sound, which makes them ideal for adding ‘shine’ to vocals, and other lead instruments.

Spring reverbs:

These units use metal springs to create reflections, and they tend to have a very bouncy and lively sound. Spring reverbs are often used on guitars and other strummed instruments to give them a little extra zing.

Digital reverbs:

These are computer-generated reverbs that offer a wide range of sounds and options. Digital reverbs can mimic any other type of reverb, so they're great for creating custom effects.

Echo & Delay Processors:

Delays and echoes are defined by their reflections, that usually take longer then those early reflections used within reverb processors, but by the nature of both utilizing what essentially is the same mechanism, the difference between both can be blurry. In fact, many reverb processors come with an additional echo/delay functionality, while many delays feature at least one reverb (e.g. the Black Rooster TD-201 does include a spring reverb emulation, just like its source of inspiration - the Space Echo).

The reverb effect is an important tool for any music producer, and it's one of the secret ingredients that can take your tracks from good to great. By understanding how reverb works, and experimenting with different types of reverbs (also in combination), you are able to add new dimensions to your music and create a more immersive listening experience for your audience.

How to use reverb in your music productions

Reverb is often thought of as a subtle effect, but as aforementioned, it can have a major impact on the sound of your music. In fact, some genres rely heavily on reverb for their signature sound. For example, dubstep relies on the extensive use of reverb to create a dark, ethereal atmosphere. Classical music also makes extensive use of (natural) reverb to create a sense of grandeur and emotional depth.

Modern day pop music, Hip Hop, Rock, utilize reverb on most vocal tracks to blend between intimacy and openness, which will have an effect on the perception of the message of the track or the artist. Many artists even do have their own signature room sound, that will allow for further recognition.

So how can you use reverb in your own music productions? Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Experiment with different presets. Different reverbs will create different sounds and effects, so it's worth experimenting with the different presets that usually come with plug-ins to find one that suits your music style. You can usually find presets within the effect, or in the effects section of your DAW (digital audio workstation) software.

  2. Use reverb sparingly. Too much reverb can make your music sound muddy and indistinct, so it's important to use it sparingly to find the right balance. A good rule of thumb is to only apply reverb to the voices or instruments that need it most - for example, vocals or drums (Snare, Toms).

  3. Consider using different (amounts or types of) reverbs for different parts of the song. For example, you might want to use a bright and airy reverb for the chorus, and a darker reverb for the verse. This will help create a more dynamic and interesting soundscape for your listeners. Through automation, you’re able to shift through the stages and create an arc of suspense and excitement.

  4. Create an imaginary stage, where the stereo field (panning) and the depth (reverb, delay) can be controlled. Try to position each instrument/voice in that ‘room’ and find a spot that makes it shine. Draw the stage on paper from an aerial perspective, and circle your protagonists & sound sources. Next, arrange the location based on the sound you are trying to achieve, whether it is the smallest jazz club or a large stadium. Try to think of the theatrical positioning of Céline Dion in the example we mentioned earlier, where the orchestra is used to build a dramatic foundation behind Céline, shaping the artistic platform/room the song requires.

ProTip: Low frequencies can easily sound washed out when reverb is applied. The punchiness and clarity of a bass drum or bass guitar, or the piano's low register will react negatively to reverberation. You’ll recognise this phenomenon when listening to church organs, or when standing too far from the stage in a boomy room.

Many plug-ins do come with a bass-cut or EQ to take advantage of this effect, however, try to separate your track into high and low register (with a crossover and/or filtering), and apply reverb to the upper spectrum only to make sure this doesn’t happen. This is of course dependent on the genre/track you are mixing.

The benefits of using reverb in music production

If you're looking to take your music production skills to the next level, you need to start by properly understanding and using reverberation in your mix. Reverb is one of the key ingredients that take your music from sounding good to sounding great. Take your time, experiment, and maybe create your own signature reverb template. The bottom line is, that the right amount of reverb will help evolve your mix. Here are just a few of the benefits that this effect can provide for your work:

1. It can make your mix sound more cohesive. By using reverb on different elements of your mix, you can make them all sound like they belong together, due to the signature “color” of the reverb you choose.

2. It can add depth and dimension to your sound. With the right settings, reverb can make your music sound more deep and open. Take your listeners on a sound journey by shaping the fundamental atmosphere for the music you want to present.

3. It can make your instruments and vocals stand out more. When used properly, reverb can help bring out the best in your instruments and vocals, making them sound more prominent and clear, and giving them a defined position in the mix. The psychoacoustic effects of a balanced positioning can even allow your track to influence the mood and emotions of the listener. There is no effect that has the ability to add as much drama and excitement as the reverb effect.

What are you waiting for? Start experimenting with Black Rooster Audio's range of reverbs today and take your music production sessions to the next level!

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