Reverb Don'ts

A guide to mixing music - Part 57

In this episode we'll point out a couple of things to avoid when dialing in reverb settings.

No solo please

First, whenever you work with reverbs, don't work in solo mode. Why? Well, if you think of it, adjusting reverb settings while listening to soloed tracks makes very little sense. If you'll recall, we made the same point about EQ in a previous installment of the series. Indeed, if you go back to the puzzle metaphor, you could think of reverb as a sort of glue to make all pieces stick tighter together. Its like applying a lacquer layer that unifies and magnifies your sonic puzzle. If you were working with a real puzzle, would you really go doing this piece by piece? I didn't think so. Well, the same applies to working with reverb.

Dialing in a reverb that sounds amazing with a soloed track doesn't necessarily mean that it will work fine on another track, let alone the entire mix. You're better off looking at it from a more global perspective, and considering reverb as an integral part of the mix, which ought to blend in seamlessly. And there's no better way to achieve that than working with reverb in the context of the whole mix. To sum it up, solo is a no-go.

Don't get your reverb from a can

The second point I want to bring up is a bit more complex, but it can be summarized as follows: Do not use headphones to work with reverb. I know it can be tempting, especially for beginners, because headphones let you hear even the tiniest detail of a reverb. So why am I saying not to use them when dialing in reverb? First of all, working with reverb on headphones often results in the annoying tendency to overdo it. I am clueless about why that is, but it's something I have frequently observed. What's more, being able to hear every detail can cause you to waste time obsessing over minute details that likely won't have any real impact on the final result. I can assure you there are much better things to do with your time when mixing, like focusing on the previous stages (EQ, compression, etc.).

Finally, one of the main goals when working with reverb is to try to recreate the sensation of a three-dimensional space. More often than not, it's way easier to achieve that when using a proper stereo system, like a couple of speakers. Unless, of course, you are working specifically on a binaural mix to be listened to on headphones, but that's a different story, which we won't deal with in this series.

And that's it for today. See you next time for some new adventures with reverb!