Intro to Audio: How to Use Nonlinear Reverb to Stand Out
Using nonlinear reverb to help a track cut through
Another humble tactic for the use of reverb is to simply help tracks be more audible. To do this, we often reach for a curious type of reverb program called Nonlinear reverb. Nonlinear reverb doesn't decay the silence. In fact, the Nonlinear reverb starts at silence, and it sort of undecays. It gets louder instead of quieter while it decays, and then it abruptly ends. On a snare, it sounds like this, first the dry track, then with Nonlinear reverb.
(music playing) No space can make that sound, but our studio Reverbs can, and while it sounds quite unusual on its own, it's actually quite a useful treatment for sounds which are short in duration. I'm thinking here of sounds like drumheads and hand percussion tracks such as shaker, tambourine, clave, bongos, and congas. Sounds that are short in duration can be frustrating to mix.
Trying to place these short transient sounds in the mix, we're always tempted to push the faders up, higher and higher just so we can hear the fine detail of that percussion part. But a Nonlinear reverb, which gives this extra burst of energy after each hit can make those hits easier to hear, which could mean that we get to pull the faders down and still enjoy the percussion part. Whenever I can get away with pulling a fader down, doing so without undermining that track, I go for it. Pulling faders down unclutters the mix, making everything else in the mix easier to hear and enjoy.
Check out this percussion groove. (music playing) Kick, snare, hi-hat, some tom fills and shakers, there's a lot going on. And I am particularly eager for this track with snare and shaker to cut through better. (music playing) Cut through isn't exactly the right phrase. I want this groove to have its own identity among the many elements that make up the loop.
I want to feel the rhythm and expressive dynamics in the performance, but I still want it to sit in the ensemble, contributing to the overall feel across all the tracks. Listen as I add a touch of Nonlinear reverb to the featured loop. (music playing) The result is a strategic blurring in time where each hit of the snare and gesture in the shaker track lasts a little bit longer, making it a little bit easier to hear.
A room or a hall type of reverb would wash out the track very much as if the snare and shaker were performed in a larger space. Nonlinear reverb has this contrived shape that gives it a good dose of reverberant energy, but by shaping the envelope of the energy into this crescendo, it separates the dry part of the signal so that things don't wash out. It's odd at first, but the Nonlinear reverb is a powerful effect. And if you feel like you can't get away with it, if it sounds too synthetic and too artificial, well, I sometimes agree.
One way to back off on this sort of startling sound is to add a bit of more traditional reverb to this Nonlinear reverb. Soften the end of the Nonlinear reverb with a bit of short plate reverb, for example. Here's the snare again, first dry, then with Nonlinear reverb only, and then with added plate reverb. (music playing) That takes the edge off of the overly abrupt ending without sacrificing the effect added to the track by a Nonlinear reverb.
There will be times when it's just not the right choice, it's too unnatural. So, we pursue a slightly different approach in the next movie.
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