Delay and reverb are great tools to have in your arsenal as a producer/mixer. If they’re used well they can help bring life, texture and ambience to your tracks. However, they do need a certain amount of tweaking in order to ensure they don’t muddy up your track and cause a mess.
In this article we’ll go through five ways you can clean up the reverb and delay in your mixes.
- Use a Reverb Bus
Using a reverb bus can help tame your reverb and prevent you from drowning out certain key sounds in your track. Most DAWs allow you to add effects to your track in two ways:
Insert Effects: these are effects you put directly onto the effects channel. e.g. if you have a snare drum channel you can insert a reverb effect directly on that channel. This affects the entire snare drum signal. The original dry signal doesn’t exist anymore.
Send Effects: these are effects that you put on a dedicated mixer channel/bus. Then you send signals from other channels to the bus. In this case the original dry signal remains intact. So you can mix the original signal with the affected (reverbed) signal until you get the desired amounts of each.
The advantage of using sends is that you can have one reverb effect and apply it across multiple signals. This reduces the amount of work you have to do because once you tweak the reverb you only tinker with the amount you want to send to the bus, nothing more.
Another advantage of using sends is that it’s a great way of reducing CPU usage. Instead of loading multiple instances of a CPU-hogging plugin you only use one instance and share it across your track.
- Sidechain Your Reverb
Sidechaining is a technique whereby one signal’s output affects the input of another signal. It’s normally achieved using a compressor.
A compressor is inserted on signal X’s mixer channel and configured to duck the music when it reaches a certain threshold.
Then signal Y is sent to the compressor as an input. When signal Y is played, the compressor kicks in and reduces signal X’s gain.
The end result is that when signal X is playing, signal Y’s gain is reduced.
Therefore signal X is more prominent in the mix when both X and Y are playing simultaneously, and signal Y is more prominent when X is not playing.
Sidechaining can be used to allow your dry signal to cut through in the mix while enabling the reverbed sound to still be heard.
To achieve this you have to create a reverb bus in your DAW. Then you insert a compressor on that bus and assign the required gain-reduction settings.
Then you send the dry signal to the reverb bus. When the signal is above the threshold your reverb signal will be ducked, thereby allowing the dry signal to cut through.
Once the signal goes below the threshold the reverb will be played. This allows you to have a strong dry signal with a nice reverb tail. This prevents your tracks from sounding like they’re washed in reverb.
- Automate Your Reverb/Delay
Automation is one of the most powerful little tools that modern day DAWs possess. Almost every knob and setting on every plugin can be automated.
The reason why you’d want to automate your reverb is if you want the level of the wet signal to kick in occasionally, i.e. you don’t want the reverb to be audible for the entirety of the track.
Reverb automation can be achieved using both insert and send reverb.
First you need to insert your reverb into the desired mixer track and tweak the settings till you’re happy. Then you get into the actual process of drawing in your automation.
In most cases you should only be automating the level of the wet signal. However, feel free to experiment as you wish.
You can proceed to draw in the gain automation (increase where you need it and reduction where you see fit). This allows you to control the reverb level as desired. So your song is not washed in reverb.
When automating you should be mindful not to cut the reverb tail too quickly. Otherwise you may have a really awkward sounding reverb which doesn’t decay enough.
- EQ Your Reverb
When using a reverb send bus you have the option of EQing your signal. This allows you to create a cleaner sounding reverb.
You can use an EQ to cut out all the unwanted frequencies such as the low end, which can result in rumble if left untouched.
Reverb can accentuate sibilance in many cases, so cutting the sibilant frequencies in your reverb can help curb this problem, as opposed to using an insert reverb effect.
You can achieve this by creating a bus, insert the desired reverb and then an EQ after it. You can then proceed to tweak the EQ to your heart’s content.
- Reduce the Wet Level on the Reverb Plugin
Sometimes the easiest way of cleaning up the reverb in your track is as simple as reducing the wet signal on your reverb plugin.
Reverb is one of those plugins that’s easy to get carried away with. Once you get into the habit of having reverb on your tracks you can be easily fooled into believing that you need to have it on all your tracks/sounds.
Reverb often works best when it’s used sparingly and for very specific purposes.
If you feel your track has too much reverb you can simply start by reducing the reverb wet level on all the tracks which have the effect.
You may end up being surprised by how such a simple action can make a huge difference in your track.