How To Use Reverb In A Mix
Attack’s mix expert Bruce Aisher explains how to apply different types of reverb to each of the various elements of your track.
Alongside compression and EQ (which we explained in a walkthrough back in December), ambient treatments including reverb and delay are an essential element in creating a good mix. Reverb helps bring a mix to life by creating realism, depth and space. Of course, in electronic music, we’re not limited to recreating ‘realistic’ sounds – reverb is inextricably linked to sound design, and there are plenty of opportunities to get creative with unique sounds. Here we’re going to take a look at how a a dry and lifeless mix can be improved using a range of different reverb techniques. The principles here will explain how to apply reverb to any sound you use in your tracks.
In The Beginning
Here have the early stages of a house track in a very raw state. We’re at the point where we want to start thinking about mix ideas and how the rough idea should develop into a more complete track.
Although the rough mix is generally well balanced, it’s very dry.
A good place to start is with the percussive elements, and in particular those that might benefit from shorter ambient treatments. We’ll leave the kick alone for the time being as adding reverb to low frequency elements can quickly muddy the mix. Let’s look at the snare:
The sample is noticeably devoid of ambience, which makes it sound lifeless. Our brain is used to processing the echoes and reverberation that we hear in the real world, so when they’re missing it’s very noticeable.
Let’s start by setting up an effect send to add some early reflections:
In the Valhalla Room plugin we’ve created an emulation of what happens initially when sound hits hard surfaces in a room – a cluster of short delays. Using just these early reflections is a good way to avoid cluttering the space in a mix.
Adjusting the spacing and number of reflections can change the impression of the space quite dramatically:
Processing here is being taken care of by an algorithmic reverb plugin. These generally provide a far greater degree of adjustment than you’ll find possible with their more recent convolution-based cousins (which more accurately recreate the sonic signature of real spaces).
We can take this a stage further by adding the reverb tail to the mix – many algorithmic reverb plugins allow you to tweak these separately. This is what happens when all those room reflections combine and multiply.
This example is based around a ‘room’ program. These are typically a good place to start when trying to create a realistic studio ambience:
The next step is to decrease the reverb time so that you just get small reverberant ‘halo’ around the sound, and momentarily check this with the dry snare in order to avoid over-processing: