Reverb can add depth to a flat mix. It can bring life to dead instruments. It can even make a home recording sound as if it was tracked in a large space.
Reverb can also cause clutter in a mix. A poorly placed reverb can result in bad mix translation on consumer listening systems. Engineers need a way to ensure that they are accurately adjusting reverb levels in a mix.
Here are some tips to help you get the perfect reverb.
Tip #1: Use Reverb Sends
Using reverb sends rather than inserting reverb on individual tracks allows for blending of the wet and dry signals in a mix. Another benefit is that you can send multiple instruments to the same reverb to create a room-like effect. This technique can be effective when blending elements of a mix that were recorded at different studios or just don't seem to fit. There are some exceptions to this rule, but typically it is better to use reverb sends than directly inserted reverb.
Tip #2: Pick the Appropriate Reverb
It is important to choose the appropriate reverb for the job. Different reverbs result in different sonic timbres. Certain reverbs may work better for some sources than others. Here are some uses for a few different types of reverb.
Spring: I like to use spring reverbs on guitars and occasionally on vocals. I find that this can create that classic fender reverb tone that guitar players are often looking for. Insert a spring reverb on a clean guitar and listen to the sonic magic.
Room/Halls: Room reverbs can be great for background vocals, string instruments, and horns. These elements often contain multiple tracks that need to be blended together. A room can be great for this type of application. Often I find myself sending all of the elements of a mix to a room reverb and blending this back with the original signal. This can be great for creating subtle space during quiet sections.
Plate: Plate reverbs are great for vocals and snare drums. A plate can add sparkle and dimension to a lead vocal. This will create a separation and allow for a vocal to stand out in the mix. The same goes for snare drum. Whether you are looking for an 80's arena rock snare sound or just some subtle reverb, a good plate work in most applications.
Tip #3: Use EQ
It is often a challenge to set the appropriate reverb level in a mix. Using EQ on a reverb send can be a great way to make sure that your reverb isn't masking other elements of a mix. Try cutting out some frequencies around 2k - 5k in your reverb send. This will allow dry elements of the mix to cut through while maintaining the space from the reverb. I often find that reverbs can highlight resonances from 200Hz - 750Hz. If you find that your reverb has too much mid frequency content, use an EQ. Try cutting out frequencies in this area. This will reduce some of the mud that can be created with certain reverb types.
Tip #4: Sidechain
Sidechaining your reverb send can be another way to clear your mix while maintaining adequate space and depth. Place a compressor on your reverb send. Then route your instruments to the key input. This will reduce the level of the reverb when instruments are playing. Once the instrument is finished the reverb will return to a normal level. This can create a breathing or expanding effect during quiet sections of a composition.
Using Reveal as a quality check will ensure that your reverb level is set in the most accurate way. Place Reveal on your master bus and turn on Critical Listening mode. Now listen to your mix and adjust your reverb sends to the appropriate level. This workflow ensures that your mix will translate to all consumer listening systems.