There’s reverb on absolutely everything. Even if you’re not pumping it into a song with a plugin, microphones capture the reverb of your environment (yes, even when you’re close micing something). The only time reverb can be truly removed from the equation is in an anechoic chamber, and I doubt many of you have one of those handy.
For the sake of this conversation, we’re not going to remove what’s been captured naturally, but I do want to take a few minutes to discuss your other options for creating space without reverbs. If you’re up for the challenge, read on…
Why Dump Reverb?
Reverb has some very useful characteristics, but it can also be a huge crutch that engineers lean on.
Can’t get something EQ’d just right? Reverb can help cover that up. Singer can’t quite hold the note long enough? Reverb comes to the rescue again.
So rather than relying on reverb to solve all of our problems, I’d like to propose some alternative adjustments that will take you just as far as (if not farther than) reverb alone can.
Delays and reverbs go hand-in-hand when we talk about time-based effects, but deciding which to use in any given situation is mostly personal preference. Slapback delays can take the place of small room reverbs. Longer delays with multiple repeats can fill space between lines of a song just as well as a convolution reverb. There’s no right way, but your ears can help guide you.
If a reverb wins out, then go with that. Just be open to the possibility that a delay might serve the song better going in, and don’t rely on either to fix something that’s broken in the source audio (pitch, timing, dynamics, etc).
Spatial wideners are often used to push mixes wider to make room for more stuff, but have you ever considered their application to fill space instead of making more of it?
When your source audio is thin and narrow, your instinct may tell you to reach for a reverb. I recommend fighting the urge and using a mono-compatible widener instead.
Wideners like SideWidener can beef up things like wimpy vocals or a buried snare drum. Check out Fluff’s approach for widening his snare below:
The result is night and day between reverb and widener. Reverbs can sound washed out, even if they’re adding to the body of the snare. With SideWidener, the snare sounds thick and present in the mix. Best of all, it sounds natural with the rest of the kit, and can be further processed if needed.
Do You Rely on Reverb?
Reverb is in no danger of going away completely. It helps you place instruments in the stereo field, and adds a lot of depth when needed.
At the same time, I think engineers start to use less of it as they learn to make their mixes sound professional. A great mix is identified as having just the right amount of processing in every way, so too much reverb stands out as a sore thumb - a rookie mistake to those who know better.
If you find yourself reaching for the reverb to “hide” certain issues in the mix, come let us know where that is in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. We’ve got a large community of engineers and producers that can help you get away from your bad habits. See you there!