The Simple Power Of Reverb And Delay

2014 Jul 14, 2014

If we’re being brutally honest, the only two plugins you need to get a great mix are an EQ and a compressor. That’s why the past two weeks we’ve covered both in a simple and approachable way. However, if you could take a great sounding mix (sculpted by EQ and compression) and give it one more dimension with little effort, wouldn’t that be nice?

That’s where a simple reverb and/or delay plugin comes in. Today I want to share with you a simple look at the power these two effects can bring to your already great sounding mix.

Reverb – Instant Mix Glue

One thing many of us home studio owners have in common is that when it comes to recording, we are overdubbing 99% of the time. What I mean by that is, we don’t record the entire band all at once. We start perhaps with the drums, then record the bass and guitars, followed by the vocals.

To the final listener, the mix sounds like an entire band played together at once, but the reality is, we simply overdubbed one band member (or instrument) at a time.

One “problem” that arises with recording this way is that we have a bunch of tracks that sound relatively dry and distinct from each other. There’s no mic bleed or room energy, since each instrument was captured in total isolation.

Enter our first use of reverb.

By simply routing all of your tracks to a single reverb plugin, we can “put each instrument in the same room” as it were. We aren’t necessarily trying to make everything sound drenched or massive, but rather we’re trying to “glue” instruments together as if they were all played in the same room.

Warning: A Little Goes A Long Way

Before moving on to a simple way to use delay, let me offer a word of caution when it comes to reverb. A little goes a long way, especially with digital reverb plugins. Too much of the reverb mix glue concept and you can easily muddy up an otherwise clear sounding mix.

Think about it. You’ve worked so hard to take well recorded tracks and open them up even more with EQ and compression. Now is not the time to introduce more mud and washiness to the mix. And yet, that’s exactly what too much reverb will do to your mix.

My rule of thumb (once I’ve found a global reverb sound that I like) is to push it up till I hear it plenty, then dial it back until I almost want more of it. That is usually the sweet spot.

Another helpful tip is to simply mute the reverb and see if it makes a dramatic difference to your mix when it’s gone. You will obviously notice it’s absence, but it shouldn’t be drastic. If it is, you know that you had too much reverb to begin with.

Delay – Out Of This World Texture

It’s hard to write about delay (and reverb for that matter) in sweeping generalities, for two reasons: everybody has different tastes, and there are a wide variety of different sounding reverbs and delays.

That being said, one thing I love about long, echoing delays is that they can take anything from a vocal to a guitar riff and send it out of this world with a unique texture and depth that you simply can’t get anywhere else.

So much of mixing is putting the listener in a virtual space, taking them on a mental journey with the power of sound. A repeating and decaying delay effect on a vocal can be simple but powerful way to make your mix seem larger than life.

My personal favorite thing to do, is to create either a stereo or mono delay, route my lead vocal to it, and then use a low pass filter (also called a high cut) to make the delayed signal sound more muffled and distant. It will instantly give your vocal that space it needs, while not competing with the dry vocal track itself.

Warning: Delay Can Kill Your Panning

And one word of warning with delays, much like too much reverb can kill all your hard work with EQ, too much delay can kill your sense of stereo separation and panning.

This is especially true if you put delay on things that aren’t panned up the middle. Your ears are now hearing both the hard panned signal (let’s say hard right), and then the delayed signal that is ping ponging in both the left and the right.

The illusion your mind plays on you is that the hard right panned track is now a little more softly panned. The result? Your tracks sound closer together than they are.

That may not bother you, but I can tell you from experience, that it doesn’t take much delay to begin eroding that nice stereo width you worked hard to achieve with panning and EQ. So just keep things moderate and pay attention to the stereo imaging as you play with your delays.

How Are YOU Using Reverbs And Delays?

So my friends, today I simply want you to share below how you personally are using reverbs and delays in your mixes. What have liked, and/or what have you disliked about your results? And why?

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