Reverb is a fantastic audio effect that can take your music to the next level by introducing exciting space and depth. But like with most things in life, too much of a good thing can turn it into a bad thing. And it's the same with reverb.
This article outlines five common reverb mistakes that many producers and even mixing engineers make – so you can avoid them and make clearer and more beautiful mixes.
Let’s dive in with the first mistake, using reverbs on all your sounds.
1. Using Reverb On Everything
There’s a reverb for every possible scenario. While that’s true, you don’t want to slap a reverb plugin on every sound and call it a day. There are two reasons for this, which will make sense when you hear them.
The first reason is purely for the sake of your computer and memory. A mix with 20-50 different sounds with equally many reverb effects will hog a lot of CPU and memory power.
The second reason is that many reverbs are tough to control, especially in the more final mixing stages. And speaking of mixing, coherence often sounds better in mixes than fifty different reverb spaces.
Select a few reverbs and stick with them. Send your sounds to reverb buses and work with groups. Not only is it easier to mix, but it can also sound cleaner and is easier to control.
2. Fitting Reverbs With Force
Trying to fit bad-sounding reverbs is as bad as forcing-fit bad sounds in a mix. Some reverbs don’t fit a sound or your mix. And that’s okay. When you try to over-equalize, compress, and make a reverb sound better than it already is, you mess with its foundational properties. In other words, you change the room characteristics of a reverb.
Sure, there are no rules in making music. But most times, a reverb space with characteristics that humans can recognize beats overly manipulated reverbs that feels off.
Try reverbs with 100% wet to see if they fit in your mix. When you’re happy, dial it back down to a level that fits your sound.
3. Removing Reverb Characteristics With EQ
Equalizing your reverbs is vital in many cases. Top-of-the-line reverbs are very realistic in how they react to sound. They have early and late reflections algorithms, with special diffusion for different room types. When you start removing too many fundamental frequencies in a reverb effect, you fundamentally change how your chosen reverb space will sound.
If you remove too much mid from a hall reverb, there’s a possibility your reverb gets skewed. For a listener and yourself, you might get the sense that something sounds ‘off.’ Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint.
Be careful when using EQ on your reverbs. Removing muddy or peaking frequencies is fine to an extent, but don’t go overboard. If you have nasty peaks everywhere in your reverb, check your sound that feeds into your reverb first.
4. Sending All Reverbs
Sending your reverbs to a dedicated reverb bus is a great technique that gives you a lot of control. It also gives you two intact signals, one dry and one wet, which you can mix to your liking independently from each other.
However, sending your reverbs is not a one-fits-all approach. Using reverb directly in your MIDI or audio channel is sometimes better.
Why? Sometimes, you don’t want a perfectly dry signal.
A great example of this is for pad sounds and background vocals. Using reverb on these channels is often better to make them more diffuse and mix them in the background.
Another example is for snare drums and toms. You often want your snare sound to stand out in your mix – to pop. In that case, sending your snare to a reverb bus is usually a better option.
But toms can be more in the background. Then, it might work best to use the reverb directly on your toms channel and mix your dry and wet signals.
5. Drowning Your Mix In Reverb
Even though we love spices in our food, using too many or too much spice ruins it. It's the same with reverbs – use it on everything, and you’ll probably ruin your mix.
The best mixes use a blend of reverbs in small amounts, except for selected instruments or ear candy, where a producer might use more. That way, your mix becomes clear, enough to hear every sound by itself without the muddying effect of excessive reverb.
A good approach for mixing reverbs is using enough to where you can barely hear it. Even though you can’t hear the echo, it makes a tremendous difference for your overall mix. And when a little reverb for many sounds combines, it can still become quite a lot.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. Depending on your style of music or type of arrangement, drowning most sounds in reverb can work. But for the most part, stick with keeping things clean and natural.
Have you made any of these reverb mistakes? Don't be ashamed. Most producers have. But after reading this article, you now know what mistakes to avoid making the cleanest mixes you possibly can. To summarize, use smaller and more purposeful amounts of reverb and don’t distort the reverb spaces with equalization. Keep it clean, and the results of your mix will follow.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
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.