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Gated reverb might be one of the least intuitive uses of reverb. Whether it was deliberately invented or sort of accidentally discovered, we'll never know. But whatever its origins, gated reverb is an essential part of music production today. So let's make sure we know how to do it on the all-important snare drum. The signal flow isn't trivial. We run the output of the reverb through a compressor and then a gate to abruptly truncate that compressed reverb so it doesn't last so long. It takes the mess out of our mix.
The output of the reverb after compression is itself a long, slowly decaying signal and it would be difficult for the gate to know when to open and close. So we use the key input to open the gate. The close mic on the snare drum feeds this key input by way of a bus, instructing the gate when to open and when to close. But the signal running through the gate, the signal that is in fact being gated is not the snare drum, it's the reverb signal. So compressed reverb passes through the gate, but the gate is open and closed based on the snare drum signal itself.
If you haven't already, plan to watch Foundations of Audio, Compression and Dynamic Processing, for more context on compressors, gates, and their side chains. This gated reverb sound creates a completely new snare sound. I think of this sort of reverb move as a sound synthesis gesture, not really reverberation. I think we can layer in some gated reverb in this tune. It's got the alt rock thing going, but there's a little bit of 80s influence here. The eighties gave us over the top gated snare. We'll build up to that, and then reign it in for a more contemporary sound.
The drums are an ideal candidate here, because it is largely a strong back beat, plus the occasional very deliberate fill. We can augment this sort of performance with gated reverb pretty easily. Brushes, ghost notes, flams, drags and other more complex parts are too dynamic for us to chase with this sort of effect. Here's the groove. When the sun goes out in June. I'll be standing next to you. So let it shine.
Just let it shine for you. Now we add plate reverb to the snare. The plate reverb is in turn compressed. That compressed reverberation, of course, would have trouble fitting into any mix. This motivates the next essential step, the noise gate. We run the output of the reverb through a gate to cut off that reverb, so it doesn't last so long, taking the mess out of our mix. But the gate will never open at the right time unless we key it open by feeding the close microphone signal on the snare into the side chain of the gate.
The resulting sound is now a completely modified sort of snare sound. I think of this sort of reverb move as a sound synthesis move, not really reverberation. There are a lot of directions to go when you're synthesizing a completely new sound. And this is just using compression and reverb. I wouldn't hesitate to instantiate an amplifier simulator to add some distortion. And I should point out that any reverb will do. We used Plate Program here, but there's no reason not to try Spring, Chamber, or any other reverb you have access to.
You can push this sound to pretty radical extremes. Snare drum invites this sort of behavior. Snare drum is a broadband, mid-rangy, messy sort of signal that responds well to this kind of aggressive signal processing. But the same approach can be used on any percussive sound. Tom fills, kick drum, hand percussion are common tracks for this effect. But it's got to fit the style of the music. For acoustic jazz trying to evoke realism, gated reverb would be a sin, but for highly processed dance music, this is required entry into the club.
The effect doesn't have to always be this obvious. It can also be mixed in at a more subliminal level, with a more natural character. Have you ever encountered a snare drum track whose tone is difficult to hear? It just won't cut through no matter how hard you push it with level, EQ, and compression. Gated reverb might just rescue that snare. Tucked into the mix with a more natural sound, the snare is made easier to hear because the gated reverb adds spectral character, some stereo width, and a longer decay time.
It makes the snare a little bit more interesting to listen to.
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