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May 2, 2012
Sound is a pretty fascinating subject once you start to really dive into it, and as an avid music producer being able to escape the norms of everyday life to experience sound is a great skill that a lot of us take advantage of. For me, I’m not sure where I would be if I wasn’t able to hear or create sounds. The idea is just mind boggling, and threatens to give me nightmares for the next week. Thankfully my ears are fine and also I can hear well enough to try and explain to you the purpose of reverbs and delays.
What is sound?
When classifying reverb and delay, or any other source of audio effect in music production, understanding the basic fundamentals of what sound is will help give you a better understanding of how the effects you use process these signals. Sound is basically energy. Similar to electricity, and light, sound is created when moving molecules in the air create waves. These sound waves then travel to your ear where your brain processes them into what we humans call ‘sound.’ In fact, if our brains didn’t process the air waves the way they do today who knows what sound would be to the human race.
What is Reverb?
Now lets think about a specific scenario here, in fact let’s be real specific and think about the last post where I mentioned a cathedral and a bongo drum in the center of the room (please read my previous article on Compressors to follow along). The cathedral we talked about had 18 foot ceilings, no windows or doors, was perfectly square and had a bongo drum in the middle of the room. We talked about how a bigger room can make a sound sound less audible due to the space it is occupying. For instance, hitting a drum in a smaller room will make the drum sound louder because the waves have less room to travel. What reverb does is similar to this at it emulates sonic characteristics of certain room settings to give productions a more natural feeling during the mixing stage. Basically when recording instruments in a controlled environment, the treatment of the room will cancel out any sort of additional delays or vibrations coming from the sound and absorb the waves neglecting any sort of reverberation or reflections. This keeps things fairly tight and expansive as its easier to make a controlled recording fit the style of the track later on. When recording, say a live band in a church, the sound difference will be enormous as each instruments sound waves will travel across the room until hitting a solid barrier then returning back to your ears. This is what we call delay and it is measured in milliseconds (ms).
Types of Reverb
Reverb effects emulate a variety of rooms and areas. If you go through the presets in your sequencer, most of the time the names will give you an idea of what sort of room is being mimicked, but the most simple way to classify the different types are Hall Reverb, Room Reverb and Plate Reverb.
TIP: I always find it best to load up your sequencers presets and make minor adjustments to pre delay, decay time and room size. Reverbs are very complex effects units so starting with pre programmed presets and fine tuning them to your taste is a very effective way to learn and understand how a reverb works. Once you are comfortable and have mastered the effect, feel free to create your own room types and save the presets for later use.
One of the most common reverbs used is called a Hall Reverb and they are meant to make the recorded track sound as if it was being played in a large space such as a concert hall, cathedral or even stadium. A lot of trance music uses large reverbs for synth and percussion and techno also uses these types of reverbs for build up effects. Hall reverbs are great to generate more space and add life to your sounds but like anything in audio, less is always more so be sure to adjust parameters carefully and with a sharp ear. Going over board with a hall reverb could create to much reverberation and will cause your track to phase out and sound muddy.
Similar to the hall reverb, a room reverb is meant to emulate the space of a small studio environment or basement. They usually consist of lower ceiling rooms with smaller floor space. It is a great choice to add some life into flat instruments especially guitars, keys and synth lines.
TIP: Use at least two reverbs in your recordings to create some interesting effects. I usually set up two return tracks named ‘room’ and ‘hall’. By doing this you can then automate and tweak your sound and knobs to add as much as the effect as you want to each channel. Just remember to turn the dry/wet knob to 100 per cent on the reverbs in order send the full effect to the audio mix.
Plate and Spring Reverb
Plate reverbs were mostly used back in the 60s and 70s and consisted of utilizing a voltage amp to vibrate metal sheets or a spring. Both of these reverbs are great to use on instruments with metallic characteristics or keys. You can get some really classic sounds out of these types of reverbs.
Reverb is a great tool for creating space in your mix. I recommend taking a vast instruments and a reverb and messing around with some of the basic dials to get a feel for how the unit works. As you may have noticed already this blog is all about experimentation. Even writing for me is an experiment as I try and explain my concepts and knowledge to you. If you have the time, make sure to concentrate on your sounds and tweak slowly. Feel what you are doing and listen to the slight changes as these are the characteristics that matter the most.
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