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5 Unexpected Ways to Use Reverb in a Mix

Reverb is a tool conventionally used for creating an environment for something to live in. We apply it to an instrument or a voice to give a sense of dimension. But reverb is a tool and it can be used for the “right” purposes … or we can get a little freaky.

1. Stereo-izing

Sometimes we want an instrument to take up more “size” in the stereo field. Usually, this is the main driving instrument like an acoustic guitar. These elements frequently sound best when they are single tracked (meaning a unison-double of the part was not recorded), but still want to feel very wide to emphasize its importance and fullness.

There are a couple of great techniques for stereo-izing a mono source using reverb. One is to create two mono reverb sends (rather than a stereo reverb). From there we can differentiate the reverbs by changing their internal settings, or even using different reverbs entirely.

We can also use conventional “doubler” techniques on the reverb returns. We can pitch one side up a few cents, and the other side down a few cents, and then delay one side a few milliseconds to create an ultra-wide image. This can be more effective than doubling the source itself because we don’t compromise any of the source sound in the process.

A more aggressive but notable imaging technique is to pan the dry source to one side (or partially to one side) and then pan a mono reverb return to the opposite side. I find this technique works best if we were intending to pan the source as part of our overall imaging concept to begin with, as we don’t really end up with an even stereo image.

2. Reverb Transitions

Sometimes you need an explosion … be it a crash cymbal, a giant 808 drop, or an actual soundbite of an explosion. Sometimes you need something explosive that isn’t an actual explosion. You just want one of the sounds already present to wake everyone up. Shooting a snare, kick, or transient heavy sound to a reverb during a transition is a great way to liven up a moment. It can work well for turnarounds or transitions between song sections.

I find that when building a reverb-splosion it can help to add a compressor to the back end of it. It’s difficult to get the reverb to feel “explosive” enough without the tail being way too long. By putting a compressor on the reverb return we can keep the tail shorter and still get that big upfront sound. If the tail is still too long, we may want to slap a gate on the very end as well.

Another great reverb transition trick is …

3. Reversed Reverb

A reversed reverb is a print of a sound sent through a reverb … and then reversed. This way instead of the reverb tailing off, it actually swells up. This is a great way to lead into a new song section. It works very well with the first word of the vocals in that section.

Time your reverb to one or two measures, send just the one word into the reverb unit and print the return. Reverse the signal and then move it manually so the very loudest part of the reverb swell matches up with the onset of the vocal or downbeat (depending on what feels right).

This can work with kicks, snares, instruments … whatever really. It makes for a great transition or lead into a song section, particularly if the transition feels like it needs a little buildup that isn’t already there in the arrangement.

4. Heavily Colored Reverb

Some reverbs are meant to sound like a sense of space and dimension around a source. That application of reverb is generally subtle and used to help define front-to-back imaging. But sometimes we want a reverb that just stands up and says “I’m a REEEEEEVERB”. These kinds of reverbs are great for creating a sense of the surreal or adding a vibe and character to an otherwise bland source.

Personally, I think the best way to achieve this is to simply use a reverb that sounds crazy to begin with. The Eventide Blackhole or Mangleverb are both great options and trashy spring reverbs are a great pick as well. Basically the more out-there the reverb, the better.

Another way is to effect the signal or return with some kind of unique processing such as a phaser, flanger, or distortion. Basically, there’s no single approach to create a character-verb, so follow your heart and get creative.

5. Pitch-Shifted Reverb

This is a great technique in general, but one that’s especially useful for adding pop to a signal that doesn’t inherently have a great top end. The concept is to feed the source sound into a pitch shifter and then into a reverb.

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For something that just needs to gleam, I really like going a single octave up and using a short plate tucked to just barely audible. This will add glow where no glow existed. There’s a reverb called Shimmer by Valhalla DSP that integrates pitch shifting and reverb together very well.

It’s also a good way to create a harmony that wasn’t there without having a “chipmunk” sound or stepping on a vocal producer’s toes. Instead of going the full octave on the pitch shift, go up an interval that defines the harmony you want, and use a medium to long reverb tail.

Again, we’re going to want to keep the return pretty low unless it just sounds too awesome to turn down. This way we can create the feeling of harmony to help the melodic movement of the record or to build tension, without exactly putting a harmony there.

This technique can be great anywhere in a mix, but it’s particularly good on vocals, piano, strings, and during sections that require some tension such as a transition.

Of course, those are just my techniques. If you have your own, drop them in the comment section below!

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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