5 Ways to Use Reverb in Your Mix

Jun 08, 2022

Reverb is a great tool for your mix.

Reverb can be used to make extreme changes to your mix, but most people generally want it to be subtle. It adds depth and musicality to your mix, without overriding the focus on the music. Today, instead of going into the different controls you’ll find on a reverb, and what they do, I’m going to be describing a few basic creative ways to use reverb.

1. Emulate Acoustic Space

There are many ways to do this with reverb, because it’s what most reverb does on the most basic level. Reverb simulates the reverberations that sound will make within a room. It’s similar to recreating the echoes that a given space (real or imaginary) will create. The reverb is the sound that doesn’t travel straight from the sound source to your ears; it’s the sound that bounces off walls or objects first, and then travels to you. It can help make individual instruments, as well as your whole mix, sound more like it’s in a real acoustic environment. Add reverb to your mix in this way to keep it from sounding unnatural or disjunct. After all, if you place one reverb that emulates a given space over multiple instruments, it can lend to the idea that they’re all playing in the same space.

2. As Glue

Working in a studio, we often find that different instruments on the same song were recorded in separate tracking environments. When we use different microphones in different spaces to track things, they can sound unnatural when you put them all together. Use reverb to mold together distinct or disjunct tracks. You can do this by routing the desired tracks to an aux track, and then placing reverb on that, or by simply throwing your reverb on a master fader. Reverb applies acoustic traits to our tracks, so it will give disjunct tracks a cohesion by giving them shared acoustic traits. Of course, to cause more contrast between your instruments, you can inversely give them very different reverbs to emphasize the contrast. Just make sure to use your ears when making your reverb decisions, because every track will behave differently.

3. Natural Reverb

We often think of reverb as something achieved with plugins or outboard gear. But artificial reverb units like those are often built to emulate a natural reverb of some sort. This is why we have settings in our reverb plugins that are described as “small room” or “large hall”. But with things like room mics, you can pick up some of the natural reverb that happens when sound bounces around in your tracking room. You can get a more natural sound and sense of realism this way. The room reverb track can match the acoustics of the actual room in which the source track was made.

Some engineers have also set up reverberation spaces to create a “natural” reverb that’s separate from the tracking environment. To do this, they create or find a space with the type of natural reverb that they want. Then they record their audio and send it into this reverb room, through an amp or studio monitor, or whatever they choose. They then track the sound of the natural reverb using a microphone placed in the space. Of course, this specific kind of natural reverb a lot less common than artificial reverb, or the room mic technique discussed above.

4. Layer Multiple Reverbs

For a more 3D and realistic acoustic space, you can layer multiple types of reverb. After all, most acoustic spaces will have both early reflections, and late reflections. Natural reverb therefore tends to have a sound that would more accurately be created by combining a few different types of simple artificial reverb. Try combining a small/short reverb to give the sound a little space, with some long/large hall reverb to top it off. You can even try throwing in something like a plate reverb for a bit of an effect between these two. Just make sure to use your ears while making your reverb decisions. When you’re adding multiple instances of reverb, it’s very easy to use too much of each. You’ll usually want to dial it down significantly, since all the reverbs will compound upon each other. Of course, many modern digital reverb units can perform multiple functions, so keep in mind that you might not actually need to layer multiple plugin or gear instances to get this same effect.

5. Brightening Instruments

If EQ isn’t cutting it, you can use reverb to contribute to your EQ work. Identify the presence frequency range of your instrument, whether it’s vocals, guitar, etc, and boost that frequency range in your reverb too. This does more than simply help with your EQ work; the reverb adds a light, smooth, and airy effect to it. It adds a little shine while helping the instrument stand out and find its place in the mix.