Reverbs can do many wonderful things for your drums. It can glue your drum kit together, improve your groove, and create a sense of deepness and space in your mix.
But it’s easy to go overboard with the reverb effect (it just sounds so darn good.) And if you apply reverbs directly to your drum sounds, it can take away the important punch – leaving your groove flatter than it could be.
This article will show you how to reverb your drums for realistic space, giving you five professional tips to improve your drums – and mixes.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in with reverb sends.
1. Send Your Reverb
The first and maybe most obvious reverb tip is to use reverb sends rather than using reverb directly in the channel. While you might wonder why, the reason is quite simple.
When you use effects directly in a MIDI or audio channel, your entire sound is affected. If you use your effect in 50/50 dry and wet, that means half the signal will be dry and the other wet with your reverb effect.
Wetting your drum sounds with reverb can impact their punch and loudness, which you often do not want.
By placing your reverb in a send or bus channel on full wet, you get two separate signals – one dry and one wet, that you can control independently of each other. Plus, you can control how much dry signal you send to your effect channel.
With reverb sends, you get much more control and can get a lot more creative. For example, you can saturate your reverb, sidechain it, make it delay, or pan to the side of the speaker.
If you prefer to work within your MIDI or audio channel, you can achieve a variant of a reverb send in Ableton Live 11. Drag your reverb on your drum sound, right-click it and choose “Group” (Ctrl+G.)
Then, expand your audio effect rack to reveal your chains. Right-click and choose "Create chain." Now you have two separate instances of your sound playing at the same time.
Name one ‘Dry’ and one ‘Wet’ and place your reverb inside the ‘Wet’ chain.
Bump your reverb up to 100% wet – and now you have two channels playing the same sound, wet and dry, at maximum level.
To control the amount of wet, adjust the dB level of your ‘Wet’ chain.
2. Put Your Drum Kit In A Room
To get a great-sounding drum kit in your music, you want your listener to feel that the drum sounds all belong together. With drum group or parallel compression, you typically achieve this, which streamlines your drum dynamics to form one coherent drum kit.
A second way to blend your drums is with reverb.
By sending your drums sounds to a room reverb, you tell the listener that all your drums are playing within the same space, making your drums blend better together.
The trick is not to use too much reverb. A tiny bit is enough to achieve great reverb glue. Then you can send your separate drums to other reverbs that make them act separately – but as a whole.
3. Use Equalization
Drums are groovy and often low and mid-frequency heavy. To avoid a muddy or cloudy mix, you need to control your reverbs with equalization.
If you used to send or the previously mentioned audio effect rack trick, place an equalizer onto your reverb channel or chain – after your reverb.
Now, your reverb will travel into your equalizer, which allows you to adjust the frequencies your reverb is using.
Follow these steps when equalization your drum reverbs:
- Check for resonant peaks and reduce them
- High pass the lowest frequencies
- Tone down the muddy frequencies around 300-500 Hz
Optional: If you want an airy reverb, you can increase the high-end. But be careful, as a higher-end reverb can destroy the illusion of something being in the distance.
4. Tempo-Sync Your Reverbs
When your reverbs echo in tempo with your track, it can enhance your groove and fit better with your mix. But how on earth can you know the times to choose?
First off, the settings you want to change are decay and pre-delay. The decay time is the time your reverb will echo for. If the decay is set for 2 seconds, your reverb will sound for two seconds.
Pre-delay is the time it takes for your sound to start its echo. Think of it as the time it takes for your sound to reach the closest area to bounce off of. If you’re in a very large space, your pre-delay time will be longer because the distance is greater.
Use a very short pre-delay time when you want the reverb to start instantly. Setting it like this clouds your original sound, which gives the illusion that the whole sound reverberates.
Adding both of these together, pre-delay and decay time gives you your total reverb time.
Now, from your BPM, you can start calculating the time for different beats, like 1/4, 1/8, and so on.
For example, if your new house track is in a tempo of 120 BPM and you want your small room reverb to echo for 1/2 bars...
Use these reverb settings:
- Pre-delay: 15.63 ms
- Decay time: 984.37 ms
- Total: 1000.00 ms
There are many great calculators for this, like this Reverb and Delay Time Calculator by Howard Smith.
5. Less Reverb Is More
Realistic drum sounds need realistic reverbs. And most of the time, a reverb isn’t going to take over a drum sound unless you’re standing in a steel drum or cathedral.
But reverbs are fun. You will want to experiment and drench your mix with lush reverbs. But for the majority of your drum sounds, it helps to use reverb to a minimum.
Drums, especially in electronic dance music, should be punchy and impactful. And if you drench all your drum sounds in reverb, it can remove some of that effect.
That’s not to say you can’t use a lot of reverbs at times. Try it, experiment.
But as a general guideline, try to use small dashes of reverb on your drums that you can barely hear. A little bit of reverb on many sounds quickly adds up and adds another dimension to your mix that only reverbs can do.
The final reason is that a lot of reverbs can quickly build up and make your mix muddy. Fixing that while keeping the reverbs can be very tricky – and often, you're better off dialing back some of the reverb effects instead.
Reverbs are amazing on all types of sounds, but they can be especially beautiful on the very foundational elements of your music – like your drums.
By using the tips outlined in this guide, your drums will start to sound more realistic, spacious, and better. They will also become groovier by using purposeful reverb times that blend perfectly in tempo with your beat.
Use these tips well. And most importantly – never stop experimenting. Remember, rules are meant to be broken, so don’t take any of these as absolute truth.
However, as a start in creating realistic drum reverb, we’re sure you will find the tips useful.
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About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.