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This installment of Foundations of Audio explains one of the most essential ingredients in audio mixing, reverb—the time it takes for sound to bounce, echo, and decay during a live performance or recording. Reverb gives a natural richness to your recordings, which is possible to reproduce. Producer and audio engineer Alex U. Case covers the acoustic, mechanical, and digital means for creating reverb, and charts the parameters (room size, density, etc.) you'll need to know to take advantage of the original recording space and enhance it in post. He then shows how to simulate reverb digitally with effects, adding timbre, texture, and contrast, and improve the sound of your mixes with a sense of space and depth.
These techniques can be practiced with the free Get in the Mix sessions, currently available for Pro Tools and Logic Pro.
The sonic appeal of lush reverberation does have limits. Too much reverb can definitely be disappointing. But there are times when we want to push somehow for more of that ear tingling experience without clouding our mix. In a down tempo moment in any song, or on the lead vocal on a ballad, or with any string pad, horn section, or choir we have another way to add pop polish. I like to call this next effect regenerative reverb. Where we allow the reverb to interact with some carefully chosen delays, so that it pulses on underneath the track.
It's a bit of a complicated setup, so let's get the signal flow right first. Our background vocals feed a long reverb, running a long haul preset. The background vocals also feed a delay processor with multiple delays each tune to a rhythmically useful delay time. Then the output of the delays themselves are fed to the same long haul reverb. The goal is to have the background vocals trigger a reverberating event that isn't simply a single room decane. Instead we want these delays to feed the reverb, so we get a rhythmically pulsing extra push of reverb.
This reverb effect is very subtle. On first listen it might just sound like regular reverb. Using a single reverb that lasts as long as this effect would clutter the mix. It's the delays that let us use a shorter reverb time and coax it into a longer effect. Here's a course in the tune millionaire by Eoka. Pay attention to the reverb on the harmony vocals behind and around the lead vocal. >> I am rich, I know, oh I know, but I feel like I am a millionaire, I feel like I am a millionaire.
I am rich, I know, oh I know oh I know I know, but I feel like I am a millionaire, I feel like I am a millionaire, millionaire. For reverb we'll use a simple large haul, and set the reverb time, to four and a half seconds. And push the pre delay, into the mid thirties. A little high frequency roll off keeps it natural sounding. The regenerative reverb also includes this multi-tap delay using three of the taps. I set two taps to a delay time very near a half-note and hard pan them.
The left delay lands a tic ahead of a halfnote and the right delay is a hair late. That gives a wide, slightly left leaning impact at the half note point. I set the third delay to a dotted half note and pan it slightly to the right. In its typical use, this sort of delay effect would create crisp echoes on the vocals. >> I'm rich, I knows, I know but I feel like I am a millionaire. I feel like I am a millionaire. >> To create the regenerative reverb effect, the mix is adjusted so that the delays are very wet, presenting a moving bed of reverb.
Without this regenerative reverb, those background vocals would be disappointing. >> Let's listen to the reverb effect on the background vocals without the other tracks. >> I'm rich, oh, I know, oh I know. But I feel like I am a millionaire. I feel like I am a millionaire. >> The vocals still sounds reasonably natural, but somehow hyped. That's because, in part, the reverb is sustaining and supporting what they sang without obscuring or clouding what we hear.
Listen now as I stop the background vocals abruptly so you can hear the regenerative reverb linger on in isolation. This is a tricky effect to balance. Too much, and your mix becomes messy, awash in too much reverb, too little, and we've failed our artist, we've failed to make these vocals even better than the real thing. This is the sort of effect where you push it up and you pull it back down and you push it back up only not as far and pull it back down just a little until you find the right placement in the mix where you can just barely hear it. >> I ain't rich.
I know. Oh I know but I feel like I am a millionaire. I feel like I, I am a millionaire. I am rich. I know it. Oh, I know, I know what I feel like I am a millionaire. I feel like I am a millionaire. >> In fact, for this sort of effect, you place it so that you aren't even sure it's even audible. You want to be able to hit the mute buttons on the reverb return and feel disappointment when it's gone.
And when you unmute it, you want to hear the background vocals getting wider, more interesting, and more intrueging. Without getting the least bit blurry, without getting the least bit difficult to understand. >> I am rich, I know. Oh, I know, but I feel like I am a millionaire. I feel like I am a millionaire. I am rich, I know. Oh, I know, I know. But I feel like I a millionaire, I feel like I am a millionaire. >> We don't want it to sound like it has too much of an effect, we want it to have a whole lot of, almost undetectable effect, it's a tricky balance.
This regenerative reverb is a common mix move for ballads, perfect for the lead vocal. And it's great for any simple, slow-moving, solo instrument, that's musically rather simple, but needs added sonic interest. Built on reverb and delays, it's a complicated patch of effects to get under control. It requires a bit of time, practice and careful listening to build it into the sort of magic dust we like to sprinkle on some of our mixes.
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