Reverb is probably one of the most well-known effects and is included in almost every DAW but what is reverb and how else can we use it in our productions?
A reverb effect unit attempts to simulate the reverberation of a room making the listener feel as though they are in the same room as the sound is being played. This is extremely useful with sound design and music scoring for film but how might we use it in music production?
The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to use a reverb plugin but rather to give you an understanding of what is reverb. We will dive into the detail of what reverberation is to give us a foundation on which to build. We then look at the technical side of a reverb plugin and what plugin developers need to keep in mind when building a reverb plugin. Finally, we discuss briefly a few techniques that use reverb to add a little something to your productions.
So to start us off let’s have a look at what the phenomenon of reverberation actually is. A solid foundation in this knowledge will set us up nicely for the rest of this article.
Reverberation is the ‘sound’ of many sound waves bouncing around a room or space reaching your ear from different directions and at different times. To help paint a clearer picture, you can think of the most simple form of reverberation as a single sound wave hitting a wall and bouncing back at you, yes an echo! While an echo IS NOT reverberation, reverberation IS basically many many echos.
Reverberation is often found in large rooms like church or cathedral for example where the walls floor and roof are all made from solid and highly reflective materials positioned at many different angles. If you were to imagine yourself in a room like this and you were to speak, the sound waves would spread out and bounce off the walls floor, roof etc making a messy tangled spiders web of sound. This spiders web of sound is what your ears hear as reverberation.
Reverberation is less prevalent in smaller rooms or in rooms made of sound absorbent materials. Take a recording studio for example, this is a room where you want as close to zero reverberation and echo as possible. This can be achieved by adding sound dampening material to key locations so that there is as little sound reflection into the listeners ears as possible.
How does it work?
Now that we know what reverberation is we can dive into how reverb plugins work and it is really quite a simple concept, but one that must be executed carefully by plugin developers.
As mentioned, reverberation or reverb can be thought of as many echos hitting your ears at different times from different angles, a spider web of sound. So what a reverb plugin does is it tries to replicate this spider web by producing many echo patterns. You could even try this yourself by taking a track and then adding a few echo return effects to it, each with its own unique settings.
Well if you were to give that a try yourself you might find that it is trickier than it looks.
So what do developers have to keep in mind when building a realistic sounding reverb plugin? Note the following assumes you have an understanding of an echo/delay plugin.
This is almost a given when writing any form of software but it must not be forgotten about and when developing a reverb plugin it is very important. It is important if we go back to the idea of many echos, then (depending on software) the computer running the plugin will have to power multiple effects at the same time. The more complex you make the reverberation simulation (i.e. the more echo patterns you add) the more resource you will consume.
So you (the developer) want to create a realistic sounding reverb plugin, and this means you want the effect to make the track sound like it is playing in a cathedral, of perhaps you want to get fancy and add room presets. All this means that you will need to have a solid understanding of the room you are trying to simulate.
Let’s say you are trying to simulate a large sized hall, it is square, has solid wood walls, floor and roof with a few small windows along all four sides of the room. Without getting too complex and using the example room we discussed above, here is a list of what you would need to consider when simulating a room:
- location where the listener would be standing
- consideration of the direction/spread of the sound source
- speed of sound
- dimensions of the room (H x W x L)
- distance to closest and furthest reflective surface
- acoustic properties of the materials the room is made of
Please note that this list is by no means comprehensive as we have left out things like the resonant frequency of the room etc.
So yea there is a lot to it!
Reverb Application in Music Production
So what can we use reverb for in our productions? Below we look at 4 ways you can use reverb to manipulate sound and add a little something to your productions.
Place everything in the same room
Possibly the most forgotten uses for reverb is that it is very good at making all sorts of sound samples and recordings ‘sound like’ they are being played in the same room. As we have covered off above, reverberation happens inside a room and a plugin developer goes to great lengths to simulate a particular room. So if we have recorded instruments and sample and synthesizers etc in a production, to bring them together you could add a little reverb.
You of course don’t want to slap a reverb effect on your master chain adding a generous amount of decay since this will probably end up in a ‘crazy’ sounding production… unless of course that is what you are going for? What you can do is take a few of the key elements like piano, guitar, vocal and the snare drum form the drum kit and add the same reverb return track to these tracks. This will make them sound like they are in the same room without muddying the sound too much.
In contrast to the above point, adding tails to sounds is probably the most common use for reverb. It is a very easy thing to do and when used well, can make a dry recording sound magical. It is quite common to find this on vocals making them sound like they are being sung live. Reverb can also be added to samples like different synth stabs, high hats etc, this gives the same slightly more presence and makes the sample decay slowly which can be kinder to the ear.
Reverb can also be added to lead synths giving them more body, making them sound bigger and again making them sound like they are being played live.
Here is a cool trick. Take your lead sound (this could be a piano, synth, bass whatever) and record just the root note with a reverb effect added. Make sure that the decay or reverb duration is set to a big value (giving the sound a long tail.). Take this tail (from where the lead sound ends to the end of the tail) and reverse this recording. Position this recording just before the chorus and you have a build that slowly give the listening an idea of what is coming but it doesn’t spoil the surprise for them.
Full a spectrum
If you are listening to you mix and something is missing, you could take a look at the overall frequency spectrum to see what areas of the mix are lacking and which are overpowering the rest. If you find an area that could do with a little more presence in the mix, one option is to add some EQ’d reverb to fill that space.
Of course this must be done with care but if done right your production will sound full and lively and you won’t even consciously hear the added reverb filling the ‘gap’.
For more information on what areas might need a little more or less, take a look at the ‘Fletcher Munson Curve’ (FMC). We will be doing an article on this in the near future so stay tuned for that. But put in simple terms, the FMC tells us how human ears perceive sound.
Now that you know what reverb is, how it works and a few different ways to use it, it is time to put it to use in your productions! Your DAW will no doubt come with a stock reverb effect so there is no excuse not to get yourself well acquainted with the effect and its controls.
I personally really like using it on orchestral pieces to bring them together and make it sound like they are in the same room and in most productions I have worked especially electronic music, reverb has been used to add a little more to builds and the mix over all.
I hope that while this article did not go into detail about how to use a reverb effect, it has given you a good understanding of what a reverb effect is and how it works. So if this was helpful to you and.or you enjoyed the article, let us know by hitting the like button below, if not then let us know your thoughts in the comments below.