Reverb (technical term: reverberation) is the most noticeable feature in past recordings, particularly the 1970’s, 80’s and some of the early 90’s. We used in hearing reverb in the old radio and of course in our favorite songs. If you are songwriter wanting to make a trendy demo, do you really need reverb in your recording today?
Reverb is the spacious nature of sound, when we say more “reverb” , it means more echo like; though echo is not reverb in strict sound engineering terms. Reverb occurs when sound waves reflect creating space and delay. Much like when you talk loud inside a church sounds very different when you talk inside your well carpeted tight room. The reason is that sound waves tend to vibrate and reflect very easily in wide marble floored church while sound waves are absorb highly in a carpeted material preventing to reflect. Wide space creates an echoey nature of sound, it is what reverb in sound recordings will sound also.
Below are the most memorable reverb laced recordings in the past:
1. Album “Playdeep” by Outfield — I really like this album,I still have a CD on this and I can say they are more like playing in a football field because of wide reverb vocals and drum effects. Try to hear their song, “Your Love” and you those vocals have heavy reverb effects.
2. Album “Music Box” by Mariah Carey — Wow,sweet songs in the past always mixed with a lot of reverb particularly in vocals. Great songs in this album including “Hero” and “Without you” are mixed with heavily reverb Maria Carey vocals.
Now it is 2008. It has been over 10 years since those albums were released. Now are they still popular techniques? No. But I do not say completely zero reverb, say you are only using 10% reverb and 90% dry.
Reasons why you should not overly using reverb in your recording.
a. Today, recordings are released almost dry like a “desert”, it make sense to keep with the trend or else you music sounds 80’s and sound outdated.
b. If you are doing your own recording, having too much reverb can make your recording sound mud and thin. The primary reason is that reverb can make a poor mix sound worse because of extreme bouncing of sounds in conflicted audio spectrum. It makes those instruments fight with each other in a pool of mud:
Tips when you “REALLY NEED” reverb in your recording:
1. In some cases , you should have. A pop song diva should need reverb to stress those very high notes and make it sound captivating. One of the highly effective techniques that I use is to SELECT only portion of the vocals that needs reverb, not all of them. This should work as it will sound great!
2. Enough space is enough. Use less than 1000 ms reverb or 300 ms on drums and guitars. Guitars will sound fine at around 1000 ms reverb. Reverberation is measured in ms, this is the decay time, the time it takes for a sound to air before it will be completely gone or absorbed. High reverb has high reverberation times. Enough space is much appreciated, having a low amount ensure that you have realistic venue. Much more like a live venue, where people get tight and you can seldom hear reverberation.
One last piece of advice:
1. A mix will sound great even without reverb and completely dry. So to impress someone with your demo recordings, make it sound nice by not using reverb.
2. Performance is even more important than sound effects, having those reverberation can sound fake. Realistic in your face sound is much more appreciated. Do you know why American Idol contestants are auditioned without a microphone and just facing into the judge? It is because they want to hear your real performance ability in a completely dry scenario. Reverberation can fake vocals and instruments. But if properly used, it can make recordings sound great.