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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.
We know that reverberation is the sound that comes after the sound our musicians make. It's the sound of their musical performances as it decays in the space. But while reverberation is what happens in a real room after a sound, in the recording studio we can persuade it to happen before the sound. We can reverse the reverberation. Have a listen to this groove changeup as we go from a 4-bar half time A section to an 8-bar B section at twice the tempo. (music playing) Reverse reverb might be a nice way to emphasize the tempo change here at the beginning of the B section, I'll start just before it.
(music playing) For the reverse reverb, any early strong sound at the top of the B section will do, a snare hit, a tom fill, or a kick drum would all be good candidates. But there's a unique overall texture to this groove so I'm looking for a less obvious choice. I listen to all the multi-track elements that make up this groove, and I'm drawn to this track labeled Snr/Clp/Shk.
(music playing) This track has a bit of shaker and a hard unusual cracking sound that sounds like it's made up of a small snare and handclap. The first hit of the Snare/Clap sound in the B section is a great choice for reverse reverb. (music playing) It's this first hand clap only that gets our reverse reverb at the top of the B section, so I'll pull a copy of it onto a new track.
First, I'll create a new stereo track, because the source samples a stereo. And with the clap highlighted, let's call this temporary track with the featured sound THE HIT. (music playing) It's a good practice to clean the top and the tail of the edit piece, so even though I'm not hearing any artifacts at the beginning or end of our sample I'll slip in quick cross fades to silence and make sure I've got a clean hit.
(music playing) It would be straightforward to add reverb to it now and the reverb tail would simply follow to the right of the waveform. But we want reverse reverb that ultimately will happen before the hit to its left. To do this, we are going to reverse the hit in time, then we'll record reverb from that backwards hit onto a different track. And then we'll reverse both the backwards hit and its associated reverb. In the end, we want to hit to be restored to its original place and direction in time while time reversing the reverb we recorded.
It's confusing at first, but it will all make sense when you see and hear it. It I'll do a quick and simple way so you can see how it works first. But there are some disadvantages to this particular technique, so afterwards I'll show a more foolproof way to get this done. I want to reverse the hit and have it feed a reverb and record that reverb to a new track. And here's where I make a small mistake. I'm going to select this hit and reverse it.
(music playing) Next, I'll create a destination track for the reverb. And as this is just a temporary setup, a printed effect not something that runs continuously in our mix, I'm going to out of convenience insert the reverb on our HIT track, set it to a short plate, and make sure it's 100% wet. Now I'll disconnect THE HIT track with reverb from the mix and assign it to any two available buses, buses 17 and 18 are available.
Now I'll label the track where I am recording this reverb breveR, which is reverb backwards. The input of the breveR track needs to be the buses that have the reverb, buses 17 and 18. I put this track into record, mute everything but the backwards hit, and record the hit reverb, being sure to roll the record the full decay of the reverb.
(music playing) Now I reversed them both in time, and when I do so I get reverb before the hit. (music playing) That's all mostly right, but, as you can see, the hit itself is no longer in the right place in time, let me undo the reverse and redo it. When I undo the reverse we see that THE HIT lines up where it should be, but when we do the reversal while we get reverse reverb, our hit has moved to a new location.
When I reverse the waveforms, they are time reversed so that the start and end times of my selections are swapped. So let me get rid of this backwards reverb and try again. We improve on this process by being sure that our original selection before any time reversal starts far enough before the hit that the full decay of the backwards reverb when it ultimately occurs before the hit will be included. I'll show you what I mean. Working in your DAW, snap to Grid Editing mode and selecting a Course Grid time like a full second or a full bar makes it easy to grab enough time in a repeatable way.
Now I try again, reversing time for the hit with this full region selected, knowing that I'll select the exact same block of time when I unreverse it later. (music playing) Unreverse time to restore the hit to the right place and time and so that it no longer plays backwardsm and notice how now our reverb is backwards happening before the hit with the hit right where it should be.
(music playing) Have a listen to it in the full mix. I'm muting THE HIT track because it lives in its original place, I just pulled out an isolated copy to create the reverse reverb. (music playing) This gives us a real acceleration into the tempo change at the B section. (music playing) So many instruments make sounds that begin rather strongly but can decay slowly.
A piano or a guitar strum, for example. There's something quite interesting, quite ear grabbing about a sound that starts slowly and ends abruptly. Reversing the slow decay of reverb so that it slowly undecays makes a bold sonic statement. (music playing) Now, of course, the fun part. Was that the right Reverb Time, was that the right reverb type? To change it, you've got to step through all this again.
so a bit of advice, when you want to try reverse reverb on your mix, print three, four maybe a dozen different versions all at once. Then unreverse them globally and audition each one. You can hear what works best for your project, a plate or a hall, a long Reverb Time, or short Reverb Time. Like the nonlinear reverb and gated reverb we discussed in earlier movies in this course, reverse reverb can't happen in the real room, it's a studio-only concoction. I hope that fact alone tempts you to experiment further with it.
That unmistakable ear-grabbing sound of a reverse reverb as it accelerates into a note can be placed front and center as an aggressive mix move suitable for electronic styles of music. It can be put on a single note or a single word to draw emphasis and attention to that one instance in the mix, or it can be tucked in at a low level to less aggressively take your mix in a new direction, or it can be added to an entire track to make a mix sound unnatural, swirly, psychedelic. This used to be a fairly tricky effect to do on analog tape, but it's so easy in a DAW that I think we are all sort of honor bound to give it a try.
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