Demystifying Reverb and Delay
Demystifying Reverb and Delay
Today we’ll be looking at the concepts behind spatial effects. For anybody that isn’t familiar with this term, spatial essentially means in a space. The whole point behind using reverbs and delays is to place sounds in a space. Why we do this is because it just sounds good. In music production, we only do things like turn plugins on and we like the way it sounds, we move forward in our process. There’s something about spatial effects in general that just sounds good, and I’d like to demystify that first before we dive into some examples of reverb and delay.
Real World Emulation in a Digital Space
The biggest reason as to why reverb and delay both sound so good is because you are emulating the real world. There’s really no such thing as absence of reverb in the real world unless you’re in anechoic chamber, or any other sort of room that totally removes all reflections. It’s also worth mentioning that everyone here in some form making music in a digital environment. You’re making songs using a computer, and that is inherently an unnatural thing because tones and synths and other things that are dry would never just happen outside in the real world. So just by putting reverbs and delays on digital sounds, they instantly become warmer, more natural, and interesting to your ear because it now has that reflection happening that lets you envision this sound in a space, which is naturally familiar to your ears.
Filling Up a Mix
Reverb and Delay also sound good because they help fill up a mix. If you don’t have a lot going on in your composition, or if you have a certain sound that sounds great, but it just doesn’t sound big enough or full enough, reverbs and delays are a great way to make the entire spectrum and the stereo image sound fuller, more energetic, and more exciting to the listener.
Limitless Creativity with Effects
There’s also just a ridiculous amount of limitless creativity that can be achieved with effects. Most of the effects we use as producers, we’ve only gotten to know them so well because we sat there the first time and said to ourselves “Hmmm, what does this knob do?” and as you start to know them more and more, you begin to pick up on little tips and tricks that creatively work well with certain sounds, and as you begin to memoize them, you start manipulating them in certain creative ways.
We could go on and on about different effects, but today let’s just focus on how we can create a better mix and master by using reverbs and delays to create a space. Creating an environment, not so much of creating an effect, although we will talk about that towards the end as a little bonus.
5 Types of Reverb
The most important use of reverb and delay is definitely just making your mix sound more polished, and like it’s in an environment, or in a space. Let’s start with talking about reverb, then talk about delay, then we’ll move a little into techniques we can use in our DAW.
Before we get into the 5 types of Reverb, and yes for anybody who isn’t aware, there are 5 distinct types of reverb that we’ll be covering, but let’s talk about some foundation reverb knowledge for a second for anybody who isn’t familiar with it.
Reverb is essentially this idea that any sound that you play in a space is going to have reflections. What that means is that the soundwaves from the sound source are going to travel and hit objects and bounce back. The cumulation of thousands of reflections from all different angles bouncing back is what creates a sense of space or environment that something is in. That’s what the term reverb is referring to.
Luckily for us, computers have made it really easy to emulate those environments versus having to go out and actually record certain sounds in spaces.
So let’s go ahead and talk about the 5 types of Reverb
Probably the most common and useful type of reverb that will be useful throughout your track is room reverb. I’m sure you’ve heard of room reverb before, there’s a lot of plugins that have the word room in it. Basically room reverb occurs naturally everywhere in life. Any space you’re in, any environment, you’re going to have those reflections that’s going to create the concept of reverb.
One common technique for the use of room reverb in your DAW is to actually set up a room reverb bus, that way, you can easily send subtle amounts to almost anything in the mix which really helps glue things together.
There’s obviously sometimes where you wouldn’t want to send that one sound to the room, maybe for the dramatic effect of a dry sound in a wet mix, like when layering synths, where I would have a relatively dry sound layered on top of another sound with a very wet room reverb, so we’re still getting the sense of space.
The great thing about putting a room reverb on a bus is that it ties everything together, it’s like the final polish your mix, and allow several sounds to share the same space, gluing everything together.
The next type of reverbs are Plate Reverbs, which are metallic like, fake reverbs that are created to mimic what a room reverb would sound like, but in a slightly different way. The main characteristic is that plates don’t really push the sound further back in the mix that much. Typically with reverbs, when adding it to a sound, the more you apply, the further back in the mix the sound goes, but that’s generally not the case with plate reverbs. The purpose of Plate Reverbs really shine when you want a certain sound to shine in front of the mix such as vocals, lead synths, and drums, really anything you feel like you want it to still pop while remaining center in the mix.
Similar to room reverb, but just a little bit bigger is this notion of a hall. Halls are for sounds that you want to put in the back of your mix. Sounds that don’t really need to be upfront and present in the mix like what you would get with a plate, but you still want them to feel large. Hall reverb is really common on arpeggios in trance music. Vocals sound really good with hall reverbs as well because it makes it feel way bigger and way more interesting. So the general idea by this point is that the longer the tail, the further away a sound is going to seem in the mix.
So my personal favorite type of Reverb is the Chamber. Chamber Reverbs are similar to Halls, but where they differ is that Chambers tend to emulate weird spaces, for instance like a cave. You may be familiar with the concept of convolution reverb and ways of emulating real spaces, and a lot of the time chambers are cool because they can sound really unique and interesting on any one or two particular sounds in the mix. Often times like claps and snares or snaps and things like that with a chamber reverb on them can really allow them to pop in a really cool and unique way.
Lastly, we have Spring Reverb. Spring Reverb is also man made by the use of springs to create a reverberated sound. It’s really hard to describe it in words how the sound differs from what you would get from a Chamber or Hall Reverb depending on how long the decay is, but really all you need to know is that it is often times found in guitar amps and in general it just sounds really cool on stringed, plucky instruments. If you plan on using any guitar sounds in your mix, spring reverb is definitely something you should be checking out.
These 5 types of reverbs are all used on pretty much all of my songs, but you don’t have to learn and use them all every time to make a great song, because some songs just don’t need much unique reverberation in order to sound good. It does interact with the other parts of your production like your sound design, or how good your composition may be, and the style of mixing and what genre your in. But I promise if you take the time to learn all of these different types of reverbs, that you will find certain flavors of reverbs that you like that really works well with your music.
Now let’s look at delay in the same way we looked at reverb. So just to understand how delay and reverb are related, we must remember that this all about reflections at the end of the day. So the concept of a sound source creates a sound that travels then bounces off and you hear it.
So the best way to think about the delay is as a single copy of the sound at a later time. So where reverb is several reflections of sound bouncing off a surface all happening at once to create this space, delay is the idea of a sound initially playing once, then repeating an exact copy after a certain period of time. Reverb and Delay are often confused because they’re both thought of as sound bouncing off, but delays have a lot of very unique uses and because its essentially copying the sound, and the fact that we have a stereo image to work with, delays can often be used as effects but also as spatial tools. You can actually offset when a sound happens in the spatial environment to create width, movement, and a ton of different other creative ways but there’s just too many to cover. But at the very foundation of delay there are two different types. Droning Sound or Timed Effect.
With a Droning Sound, you may automate it on and off, but when it is on, the delayed signal is interacting with the Dry signal of the sound. This is often really nice on things like arps, or even vocals, anything that you want to have that delayed effect consistently.
The other main type is a timed effect. This type is really common in vocals where the last phrase, the words repeat themselves three or four times to fill out a space. So anything that is timed like that where you’re automating the delay on and off. So that’s kind of the main idea here, that there's a lot of different ways you can use delay, but these are the two main types that are most commonly used.