Recording Effects usually refers to Time based effects are like echo, delay, reverb, and similar type effects. A echo is typically just one repeat. A delay is a repeating echo type effect. A reverb is an effect that is like a Hall or room, or other sound effect that changes the sound to sound like a different environment.
Time based effects may have adjustments like wet/dry mix, time length, delay, and many other settings that can be adjusted, these are called parameters.
Time based effects can be digital or made from actual objects. A plate reverb is where a large metal plate is suspended and then energized with the audio vibration to make a cool effect that sounds like the bottom of a well or perhaps a long hall type sound. Spring reverbs use springs that are suspended between magnets to get their unique sound. Other types of reverb are Room and Hall reverb which originated from studios who would put a speaker in a room or in a hall and blast it with a microphone at the other end to capture the effect of the room on the sound. You can capture your own reverbs by capturing an “impulse response” of any room. Using a microphone, you can record a sound, and then use a computer to map the frequency response and decay times, to provide an accurate reproduction of any environment. Cool!
Time based effects and compression and eq is far from universal and different types of music require different approaches. The same effects for one song, might not be appropriate for another. You will need to resist the temptation to add your favorite effects into every song. Every engineer gets hooked on certain sounds and tricks that might be cool, but not necessarily what the artist wants, or what the fans are going to expect. The engineer and the artist should have a frank discussion about how they want things to sound. The engineer should be familiar with the artists previously recorded works, and they should communicate what they were happy with and what could be improved.
Mixing and Engineering / Producing is a powerful position in terms of how the music is going to sound. With power comes responsibility to know when to use what tools and to what extent. Sometimes, there are preference differences between people, and not everyone likes the same things. Just because you’re an engineer or producer doesn’t mean you “know” what the right sound is 100% of the time. Sometimes the consumers or fans may want one thing, and the artist or engineer prefers a slightly different sound. Its all about taste, but for the most part … professionally … you have to listen to who’s paying you. If you make the record sound great to you, but take no consideration the creative ideas of the people making the sounds, or the people paying the bills, you are going to run into trouble.
I like to get at least 4 or 5 songs that the artist likes to get into the feel and begin to make creative decisions. Questions like: What kind of vocal effects do you want. Can you provide a youtube example of a mix you like? Can you provide an example of a song that has “great guitar tone” or just something you like the overall sound or mix are sometimes useful questions. It’s all a matter of taste, so let’s sit down for 5 minutes and get on the same page, so you can have the best experience in the studio possible.
Mixing with Reverb
There are many types of reverbs and many parameters that can be tweaked. In this next section we will go in depth into reverb types and different kinds of reverbs and other time based effects. Reverb is short for reverberation and is a prolonged “tail” or ending resonance of a sound. We will go into routing and using auxes and wet dry mixes tracing the signal flow of reverb in a typical mix and explore different reverb effects and tips and tricks to using reverb to craft your creative masterpiece. By enhancing the a mix with reverb and other time based effects we can widen the soundstage and provide interesting perceptions of space, from tight rooms, to booming huge spaces, from realistic environments, to otherworldly. By expanding your palette of flavors of space, you can craft many different types of 3D effects from pretty and beautiful, to harsh and gritty. Almost every reverb unit has various parameters that can be adjusted to taste, and we will cover some common parameters, and some not so common effects you might encounter.
Reverbs can be either created from natural acoustic phenomenon like a vibrating spring or plate, created by manually playing a speaker in a room and capturing the sound at the other end with a microphone, or created digitally, either with a computer chip inside a rack mount unit, or inside a pedal, or within a computer DAW system as a plugin. There’s literally an infinite number of choices and combinations of effects you can use….so lets dive in!
Realistic Type Reverbs
Realistic type reverbs typically emulate a real space (like a room or a hall or a chamber) or are based off of the sound of a plate or spring acoustic analog reverb sound. Reverb presets like Room or Hall or Cathedral should be relatively self explanatory, but you may be uncertain when to use which ones. Too much reverb can muddy up a mix, and you won’t be able to hear all the elements clearly. You can always add more reverb later, so its important to note that there are no steadfast rules. Some types of music like punk and folk or acoustic may require very little or no reverb on anything at all, so be careful how much you use. A barely noticeable amount is usually better than a whole bucket load. You don’t want to drown your singer in a sea of reverb!
Reverb spaces can range from small to large. Sometimes a room or a hall is used on the drums to add space, or a very dry guitar tone can sit nicely in the mix with a little hall type reverb to make it sound more like a guitar in a room. Reverb presets can also be supposed to sound like a canyon canyon canyon or a loooooooooooonnnnnnnggggggg tunnel or something like that. Or they can be otherworldly like a wacky outer-space crazy zany weird and wonky. Sometimes they reverse the reverb signal for a weird effect. Another way to add a strange sort of effect is to play the sound in reverse and record the reverb, then flip in in reverse back front-ways again to have the reverb lead into the note like a slow fade in. A backwards or reverse reverb can have an echo in reverse trailing after or some other bizarre effect like that to add to a part. Using a lot of different effects might make your hip hop mix sound so dope, or maybe your effects are too fresh and now your shit sounds wack. Damn dog.
Plate reverbs add a vintage dimension to vocals. They emulate a large plate of metal that has a speaker attached to a piece that vibrates the metal plate, so that an electric pickup can capture the tone. Sometimes plates will be be labeled “gold plate” or “bronze plate” or something like that to describe the character of the tone. Generally, plates have a richer more colored tone than a hall. It isn’t supposed to sound like a realistic room, its more a shiny metallic tone that is colored with a vintage vibe. I like to use plates sometimes on vocals or snare drum. You can try a “drum plate” preset or a “sustain” or vocal plate on the vocals. By all means experiment, but the client might not like it if you waste too much time messing with reverb if they are getting charged an hourly rate!
Spring reverbs are based off the sound of spring vibrating. They are a vintage type… they can make a spring popping noise like when a guitar amp is bumped. A sort of lightening or crazy peeeeerrrqkkkkkwwwwww type of noise. Cool! When you hear reverb through an old fender guitar amplifier or similar vintage guitar amplifier, that’s spring reverb you’re hearing!
Reverb can be gated with a gate or expander. This creates a solid tail then a sharp cut-off. Gated reverbs sound like 80s drums. Think Peter Gabrial and Phil Collins vintage retro 80s reverbs. This is not a subtle effect, so unless you want it to sound like 1985 you better stick with the Halls and Plates.
Reverb Signal Flow
Reverb presets have various parameters and common signal flow behavior. On a analog mixing environment, or inside a digital mixing type scenario, it is often convenient to set up reverb on a post fader auxiliary send or aux. This way you can send however much signal you want to the reverb from each channel. For example you could set up a drum room send on aux 1 and send a little bit of each drum to it to give a convincing drum room effect, then adjust the fader on the aux to mix in more or less reverb to taste. This is preferable to having a separate reverb for each channel because it saves processing power by using one reverb for a bunch of things, and typically results in a more natural sounding mix.
Wet Dry Mix
Reverb often has a wet dry mix as well. This splits the signal into the unaffected “dry” and the reverb effect is the “wet”. You can blend more of the wet for a denser effect, or less of the wet for less of the reverb. There also may be an input level or overall gain or master volume to bring the volume of the effect up. Input gain may be utilized to bring the input into the effect up.
Another common control is “pre delay” which is a short delay before the effect comes in (usually in ms). By allowing a short amount of time before the reverb comes in you can preserve some of the dry attack, then smooth out the sustain with reverb. With a large amount of pre delay (like 80ms or 120 ms) will result in a sort of slap back delay sort of sound. a pre day of between 10ms and 50ms is more common and natural sound usually.
The reverb may have EQ or high or low pass filters to control the tone of the reverb effect. Sometimes dumping the low end off will clean up a muddy sounding reverb, or maybe there’s a frequency range that’s really popping out to you in a bad way; use the equalizer to cut the area that’s bugging you! High boost can add shimmer and high frequency color.
Another important parameter is decay time. Decay times vary from very short for a room, to very long (like 3 seconds or longer for a long hall. Usually you can adjust the decay length to tweak the reverb sound shorter or longer. If it’s too small, make the decay longer, or if it’s too long make the decay time shorter. Get it?
In addition to decay time there’s also attack time, release time, and envelope controls. These parameters control the density of reverb as it comes in, is sustained and then released and fades away. By controlling the envelope of the volume of the reverb you can sculpt the amount of sound as it decays from beginning to end.
Saturation / Distortion / Harmonic Exciter
Saturation or distortion is where the sound is effected with colored harmonics to thicken the sound and add additional frequencies that were not there before. This can be used to add harmonic content to an otherwise bland signal to increase the richness of the color tone and enhance the character of the sound. You can add distortion or harmonic exciter before or after the reverb to create unique sounds from stock plugins. EQ and dynamics can also be added to modify the reverb decay or frequency profile.
Sub Bass Reverb
Sometimes a booming bass sound is required. You can add a low frequency reverb by adding a eq that dumps all the high frequencies (like everything below 100hz or so Only) You can add a bit of pre delay if you want to preserve the attach nature. Mixing this in with your kick drum if the beat is slow can give you a massive booming sound. Think kick drum in the bottom of the biggest cavern in world or something. Sounds awesome!
Automation is where the volume or other parameters are changed over time to be different in different sections of the song. You could automate the reverb up at the end of a line to make it go into a more intense reverb. This could be accomplished be either automating the send to the reverb (aux) or alternatively, automating up the volume of the reverb. This can be called a reverb throw. You can do it by using touch automation.
The wet / dry mix is a concept that can also be looked at as parallel processing. This is a technique where two versions of the signal are made either through auxes or through copying audio files. The two versions are treated differently (one effected, and one unaffected) and then combined back together. When you do it with a compressor, it’s called New York Style compression, but it’s a sort of wet/dry mix, or parallel processing, and it’s a widely used technique. It allows you to do something, whether it’s reverb, compression, or gating, and then mix it in to taste, and still retain some of the unaffected signal.
New York Style Parallel Processing
Another common technique is to split a copy of a signal off and heavily compress or limit it. This “crushed” signal is then mixed underneath the original to fatten up the mix, without sacrificing the dynamics completely. This can be referred to as NY style, but you cant let NYC get all the credit for everything.
A “Crush” treatment like this is often called “All buttons IN” or “British Style” compression, which is referring to a method of operating the 1176 compressor where all four buttons (4:1, 8:1, 1:12, and 20:1) all at once to massively compress a signal. This super compressed version can be mixed in underneath the original signal for a cool effect. It’s generally considered an aggressive technique.