Nectar 2 reverb with low-pass filter
4. Not Knowing the Reverbs in Your Arsenal
Every reverb has its own parameters, some of which are intelligible to the common user, some of which require a very deep dive. Taking the time to learn your reverb plug-ins inevitably pays off, as you’ll wind up with a finer degree of control over the processor. Still, it’s a daunting enterprise—and I know this from experience: many are the reverbs whose interfaces I’ve given perhaps a passing glance. Even so, I delude myself into thinking I’m getting the most out of them!
Slapping a new verb onto a sound and seeing what happens might be a way to force a creative choice. It may even work two times out of seven. But I maintain that it pays off to do a bit of homework: grab a guitar, a vocal, a mixed drum track, a snare, a synth part, and set them aside in their own session. When you have some free time, open that session, and take out your handy pen and paper (or open a text document if you’re so inclined). Spend an hour or so investigating your new reverb as you would a new instrument, learning its intricacies and taking notes as you do.
If there’s a common theme to my articles (other than note-taking), it’s this: engineers need to practice as much as musicians do. There is nothing wrong with setting aside time to hone new techniques on new pieces of gear. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself exercises and routines to ensure results. A track that exists solely for experimentation is a good thing to have on hand, and this use-case highlights why.
Let me also address inevitable questions regarding when to use a room, a plate, a chamber, a hall, or a spring-tank. Such qualifications are indeed important; if you’re in a new space with unfamiliar tools, knowledge of these classifications will give you your starting point. But once you’ve made your own personal connections with these archetypes, they are not nearly as important as understanding the specific processors in your arsenal. You might find, when you do so, that one brand’s plate gives you the same mileage as another company’s hall, even though they are not remotely the same. This will help you work more efficiently, and prepare you for situations where you’re in unfamiliar terrain.
5. Slapping on Reverb Just ’Cuz
Like EQ and compression, reverb is a tool many beginners slap on just because they think they should. But remember what reverb is supposed to do in the first place:
In its most conservative implementation, reverb communicates a sense of space and a feeling of depth. In its most liberal employment, ‘verb is meant to transport you to places you’ve never been.
The panacea for “slapping on reverb just ’cuz” is to take a moment, close your eyes, and ask yourself the following question: “Where am I trying to put this sound?” The answer could be “in a church.” The answer could also be “further back into the mix” or “the planet Zebulon.” These answers necessitate different approaches to reverberation. So always ask yourself the question!
6. Using a Million Kinds of Verbs in One Mix
This, of course, is my opinion, but I’m going to state it anyway: there’s no quicker way to make an unfocused hodgepodge than to use multitudinous reverbs of unrelated character. Indeed, it can be quite self-defeating: as the reverbs bounce around each other, they do so in ways that don’t make sonic or contextual sense, and thus, give away the fake.
Remember what we just said: the goal of reverb is either to create a sense of ambiance, a feeling of depth, or a means of transport to an entirely new locale. When you’re using multiple reverbs of various densities and times, you are pulling listeners into multiple spaces at the same time; the brain can often feel such chicanery. You could also be destroying any chance at depth by slathering on heaps of refracting, reflecting mud.
This isn’t to say you should never use different reverbs in one track; variety, after all, is the spice of life. On a 90’s-style ballad, there’s nothing wrong with putting the toms in a room, the snare in a hall, and the singer in a cathedral. It’s when every single guitar gets their own individuated space—with no sense of a congruent picture—that the fakes start to spring up.
7. Failing to Control the Reverb
One hallmark of an inferior mix is reverb that announces itself too early, or sticks around for too long. An example would be an overly-reverberated drum-set entering a sparse mix, Ringo Starr style; if you piled heaps of uncontrolled reverb on these drums, they might not blend with their surrounding. They might even shock the listener. Such mistakes can make a mix sound cheap, and rather like a demo. If you remember that balance and context are key, you’ll be able to avoid this pitfall.
The practical tool for avoiding uncontrolled verb is automation. That snare fill entering the arrangement? Automate its send lower than you’d like and see if that actually makes the mix sound cleaner and feel less cheap. Once all the elements have been around for awhile, you can up the send. That vocal verb lingering too long after the chorus? Automate its level down in concert with the chorus’s ending for a tight transition back into the next section. These moves go a long way.
8. Failing to Gussy Up the Verb
Yes, we previously said not to EQ reverbs automatically—and that advice still stands. However, once a reverb is balanced, you very well should treat it further for a variety of reasons.
Your vocal verb might sound great before the drums come in, but once they enter, all that ambiance might be masking the snare. Here, EQ is your friend, particularly one that helps detect masking such as Neutron 2. Similarly, if the sound is good, but still too pristine, a tape emulation could add some pleasant harmonic distortion to temper the clarity. Nectar 2 includes options for saturation and other effects that can all be placed after the reverb in your signal chain!