Having a solid grasp of music terminology is a must if you want to be a great musician or music producer. Especially since you’ll have to get hands-on with the intricate process of mixing and mastering tracks to produce perfect, release-ready mixes. If you’re a budding artist, you might be wondering “What is reverb in music production?”. The good news is, you’re in the right place. Stick around as we run through the definition of reverb, how it’s used, and how you can incorporate this effect into your productions on BandLab.
What is reverb?
Curious about reverb’s definition? It’s simple! Reverb (or reverberation) refers to the ambient environment surrounding a sound, reflecting the acoustics of the space. This could be like the acoustics of your living room; or the ethereal resonance of a shimmering cavern. While reverb serves various purposes in music production, it always revolves around conveying the atmosphere of a specific location, whether realistic or otherworldly.
To be more specific, reverb is the reaction of a physical location to any audio signal resounding inside that space. Whenever you play an instrument in any given environment, whether it’s a room, a cathedral, or the depths of the Grand Canyon, sound waves radiate outward in all directions, interacting with surfaces and obstacles along their path. This could be everything from shag carpeting on the floor to sheet metal on walls to even rocky cliff faces.
As you play your instrument, a multitude of distinct patterns of reflection, diffusion, and absorption combine to form the reverb of that particular space.
Using reverb in music production
A few distinct types of reverb have become widely popular throughout the realms of music production. Let’s go through them!
1. Rooms, chambers, and halls
Before the days of computers, people used a variety of tricks to add reverb to their sounds. In fact, studios had whole rooms devoted to the purpose of adding reverb to tracks.
In analog days, an engineer would place speakers in a dedicated room, put up microphones a fair distance away, and pipe sound into the speakers. Then, they would record the sound with their microphones with the result being a reverb track.
In fact, famous studios – like Capital in Los Angeles – were known as much for their reverb chambers as their recording facilities. Rooms, chambers, and halls (listed in increasing order of size) were among the most common spaces captured using this method.
In BandLab, you can find these types of reverbs in the Space Maker module.
Click on “Type” to browse the list of available reverb types. You’ll notice the Long Plate option stands out, as it isn’t a physical location. To get a better understanding of what this is, let’s look into plate reverbs.
2. Plate reverb
Plate reverbs, known for their splashy and bright sound, have established themselves as a significant component of music production.
The original plate reverb, in its simplest form, consisted of a metal sheet suspended within an enclosure, thus earning the moniker “plate.” Engineers would attach a driver to the plate, reminiscent of the device that delivers sound to your headphones. Additionally, contact microphones or pickups were affixed to it, similar to those found on a guitar.
You’d route your desired audio signal to the driver before hitting play. This would set the plate into vibration, and the contact microphones/pickups would capture these vibrations, resulting in the distinctive reverberation.
Due to their construction, plate reverbs tend to impart a characteristically bright and rich sound.
That was the Long Plate reverb effect in BandLab applied to a simple drum loop. The amount of reverb is automated over the course of the loop, so you hear it more and more as the loop goes on.
Back in the era of analog technology, reverb plates were a great space and time-saver. This was because it was far easier to set up the plate than commandeer an entire physical space for capturing ambient reverb. They don’t sound quite as “real,” but that’s become a part of their distinctive charm and signature feature.
Plates weren’t the only option in the days of analog. Engineers had other tricks for generating reverb in smaller, cheaper ways, such as the spring tank.
3. Spring reverb
Spring reverb is another classic kind of reverberation. If you’re a guitar player with an old-school amplifier, you’re probably familiar with this sound.
The principle behind spring reverbs is similar to that of a plate. But, instead of a large sheet of metal, you’d use a small vibrating spring. A driver would sit at one end of the spring, with microphones/pickups situated at the other. Sound would go in, and vibrations would come out.
The whole contraption was called the spring tank. Plus, because of its compact size, they were easy to build into guitar amplifiers. This is how spring reverbs became closely associated with guitars and electric pianos.
Explore the warm tones of a jazz guitar treated with BandLab’s Spring Reverb.
4. Classic digital reverbs
As digital systems became more prevalent throughout the 20th century, people started coding reverbs instead of building them. These reverbs were housed in dedicated hardware processors, and produced an iconic sound of its own (separate from real spaces, plates, or springs) due to its coding and componentry.
Brands like Lexicon, Bricasti, AMS, and TC-Electronic dominated the digital reverb space. Names like Alesis and Roland also became popular amongst engineers. With the rise of these machines, the meaning of reverb changed in music production. Suddenly, you could accomplish all sorts of effects never imagined before!
If you’re a fan of pop culture, you might be acquainted with the sound of classic digital reverb. For instance, the synths of Bladerunner were drenched in Lexicon-style verbs. The gated drum sounds on 80s pop and new wave hits relied heavily on digital hardware verbs, too.
How to use reverb in modern music production
Now that your question of “What is reverb?” has been answered, we can move on to how to use it. In the 21st century, most music is made within the digital realm. Not many home studios have big chambers lying around for reverb, or analog plates available for use. Fewer and fewer marquis-quality recording studios continue to exist. Of course, some professionals still buy hardware Bricastis or Lexicons. But the overwhelming majority of producers use audio reverb housed entirely within their computers, applying the effect as a strictly digital process.
There are two methods of creating modern digital reverbs: convolution sampling and algorithmic design.
- Convolution sampling: A convolution reverb provides you with an audio sample of an actual space, plate, or spring. The software manufacturer records an impulse response of the room or device in question. That impulse response can then be manipulated in a variety of different ways. When a plug-in company makes a convolution reverb, they are chiefly selling you the ability to manipulate that impulse response in their own unique way.
- Algorithmic reverbs: These, on the other hand, are constructed entirely out of math. There is no real-world sampling in the algorithmic model. Instead, an engineer has coded the reverb into existence.
At times, plug-in manufacturers combine these two reverb topologies. BandLab’s Space Maker, for instance, is a hybrid of convolution and algorithmic design. But our master categories of digital reverb are basically binary: you have algorithmic on one hand, and convolution on the other.
This seems simple enough, but it gets more complex when you dive into the conundrum of emulations. Everyone making music quickly finds that they want access to the vintage sounds of yesteryear. It’s the sound that resides in your mind, even if you haven’t labeled it.
Those plates, chambers, halls, and spring tanks have all been emulated in the digital world. And here’s the rub: they’ve been emulated to death using both algorithmic and convolution methods.
To illustrate a convolution approach, let’s consider a high-quality plate reverb often employed by engineers in their productions, such as Liquidsonics’ Lustrous Plate.
I’m applying this reverb to a snare drum without making any adjustments to the drum kit itself. The only modification I’ve made is adding the reverb to the snare, using a preset named “Tight Snare”.
Here’s an example showcasing the quality reverbs from Exponential Audio, specifically Stratus, which I’ll present in a similar manner:
The contrast in sound is striking, isn’t it? Yet I’m doing the exact same thing. I’m sending the snare to the reverb, selecting a plate, and using the preset named “Tight Snare.” Still, the outcome is entirely different!
This disparity comes from the Stratus, which is an algorithmic reverb. It hasn’t sampled physical rooms in its creation, and as a result, it inherently produces a different sound compared to a convolution reverb, akin to how a Stratocaster guitar always differs from a Les Paul.
The point is this: there are a multitude of options when it comes to reverb in music production. Given this immutable fact, how can you be sure of which reverb to use or when to use reverb in the first place?
I believe the answer lies in the following question.
What is reverb actually doing for your music?
To make better choices using reverb in music, you must ask yourself why you’re using reverb in the first place.
Advanced producers can do a lot with reverb, going far beyond adding space to a sound. But for beginners, it’s better to concentrate on four basic goals reverb can achieve in your music.
Understanding these basic applications will help you figure out what reverb to use, and when to use it.
1. Enhance realism in your instruments
Reverb is one of the best tools a musician can use. When we employ it correctly, we can create the illusion that the instrument is in the same room as the listener, providing a palpable sense of space and depth without calling attention to the reverb itself. Reverbs used in this way tend to be short and subtle.
For instance, listen to this BandLab drum loop in its dry state:
Then take another listen now that it’s been embellished with a smidgeon of BandLab’s Studio Reverb, edged in with the following settings:
As it’s exceedingly subtle, you ought to listen to this on headphones to really dig into what I’m doing. Once you hear it, you’ll never unhear it. The reverberated example has a grounded feeling of space, place, and depth.
2. Infuse your music with dramatic flair
We can also use reverb to imbue our productions with a profound sense of drama or heightened emotional intensity. A big, resounding reverb can transport vocals out of the realm of reality and into the stratosphere of melodrama – this can be quite effective in some musical contexts.
We often see this technique used in pop music with the use of “throws.” These are repeated phrases of a lead vocal, drenched in reverb and given their own space to shine.
Taylor Swift is particularly enamored with throws. You can hear her use them on multiple singles from 1989, and even in the last chorus of her recent hit, “Anti-Hero.”
Here’s what a simple dramatic vocal throw sounds like using samples on BandLab:
I’m not attempting to reinvent the wheel with this loop; it’s rather rudimentary, but it effectively illustrates the concept.
For the creation of that dramatic vocal throw in the sample, I applied the Large Hall reverb in Space Maker, feeding a dark UK spring. Doesn’t it sound both ethereal and evocative?
3. Blend tracks within your song
An arrangement comprises a multitude of sounds, including drums, synths, guitars, vocals, and more. These sounds can often feel out of place against each other, refusing to meld harmoniously. They need some glue.
As music producers and engineers, our task is to find tools that can seamlessly weave these disparate sounds together. Reverb stands out as one such tool. When you channel various sounds through a shared reverb, you’ll notice a remarkable transformation—they begin to feel more coherent, as if they occupy the same space.
When you edit any sound in BandLab, you’ll notice the inclusion of a generic Reverb knob. This is a deliberate feature.
By adjusting the highlighted knob, you can apply a robust, cohesive reverb effect to any selected sound, harmonizing them within the same virtual acoustic space.
Alternate between this audio example and the preceding one. To fully appreciate the subtle distinction, use headphones. The transformation is undeniable, and all sounds now feel like they seamlessly coexist.
4. Create distinct moods in your tracks
Different types of reverbs have the power to evoke specific moods in your music: gated non-linear reverbs on drums transport us back to the ’80s, a Lexicon-style reverb on a synth conjures images of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films, a plate reverb on a tambourine brings the holiday spirit of Christmas, and a spring reverb on a snare drum immerses us in the soundscape of Dub music.
Many of these mood-altering effects are conveniently labeled within BandLab’s presets. These presets combine reverbs with other effects like modulation and delays to craft signature sounds.
Observe this drum loop:
It has a grimy and unconventional vibe that could go a few different directions. Let’s see what happens if I apply the Dub Verb preset. Here’s the result:
In a real track, I would naturally tweak the preset further to suit my needs. Even so, this already hints at dub-inspired sound, and is illustrative of how different reverbs bring you to different iconic vibes.
Using reverb in your BandLab productions
Now I’ll give you a general overview of how to use Reverb in BandLab. BandLab offers three reverb modules.
- Studio Reverb: Described as an algorithmic model of a pristine studio environment. It effectively imparts a sense of realism to your tracks, as we previously demonstrated.
- Space Maker: Combines convolution and algorithmic models to provide a broad spectrum of reverb options, ranging from plate and chamber to hall and more dramatic spaces.
- Spring Reverb: Does what it says on the tin: it models the sound of a spring tank. Two, actually. The American version is brighter, while the British version has a darker tone, reminiscent of dub music. Both options are highly versatile.
You can access all these reverb modules in the FX menu.
To add reverb to a sound, BandLab offers a couple of approaches. Firstly, you can directly apply the reverb effect to the specific sound and use the mix control to fine-tune the level of reverb applied.
Alternatively, you can duplicate the track that you wish to reverberate, applying the reverb to this duplicated track while keeping the mix control at 100%. This method allows you to further shape and customize the reverb by adding other effects. It’s a valuable technique for creating personalized and unique effects.
I’d like to note that in all my previous examples, I’ve used this duplication method to showcase the various reverb effects.
Say you wanted to add EQ to the reverb to cut out a specific frequency, or add a chorus to the verb to make it feel wider. If you added an EQ or chorus effect straight to the original track, you could risk changing its sound too much and mangling up the production. Hence, it’s more prudent to copy the original sound, make your desired modifications, and then balance the processed, reverberated track within the mix.
Automating reverb in BandLab
Most parameters in BandLab can be automated. This means, you have the ability to change them over the course of time. You can make a piano part louder over four measures, or change the panning of a melody from left to right every few seconds if you want to. You can also automate reverb parameters in BandLab, opening up avenues for a lot of creativity.
In addition to drawing in automation, you can create reverbs that sound as if they are changing over time straight from BandLab’s preset menu. BandLab has many ready-made effects chains that give your reverb a sense of movement, similar to what automation can get you.
You can even automate parameters within these preset effects chains to get really creative with your sound. Observe the following example:
This was achieved by drawing in automation for various parameters across different effects in the Dirty Chorus preset. This includes distortion (drive), chorus (size and depth), and the Space Maker reverb (size, mix, and width).
Keep in mind that it’s wise to carry out complicated automation on a duplicate track, as it keeps things cleaner.
The pitfalls of using reverb in music
Any audio tool can cause havoc on a production when used irresponsibly, and reverb is no exception. Using reverb the wrong way can have dire consequences for your track. Here are a few common mistakes.
1. Slapping reverb on every instrument in your track
Blanketing all your instruments with reverb is a bad idea. It often results in a washy, muddled, undistinguished mix that diminishes the overall impact. The essence of an exciting production often lies in the interplay between different elements within the composition. It’s impossible to feel what reverb is doing for you music if there’s nothing dry to compare it against.
2. Using too much reverb on a single instrument
Exercising restraint when applying reverb is important. When you opt for copious amounts of reverb, there should be a purpose behind your choice. Excessive reverb on elements such as vocals can obscure the clarity of other instruments. The 10% rule is a good one to abide by: if you like where the reverb is sitting, dial it down by 10%. That’s usually the optimal balance.
3. Selecting the wrong reverb type
As demonstrated throughout this article, the variations among different reverbs are significant. Thus, it comes as no surprise that choosing the wrong reverb can lead to a mismatched sound. However, it’s worth noting that reverb is also a matter of intuition – if a particular reverb complements a sound and feels right, then it likely is right.
Where the mistake typically arises is when a producer attempts to force a less-than-ideal reverb to work with a specific vocal. Rather than admit defeat, they dedicate considerable time and effort to tweak it through a series of pre or post-effects. This can result in a waste of valuable time and creative energy.
Remember: if a reverb doesn’t sound good, move on to the next option as fast as possible.
4. Being unfamiliar with your array of reverbs
Reverb is one of those effects where a lack of knowledge can severely disrupt your mix. Becoming well-acquainted with the reverbs at your disposal will ultimately enhance your speed, efficiency, and creative prowess. Fortunately, this article has devoted considerable time to exploring the reverb possibilities within BandLab. You should now possess a passing familiarity with the tools offered by this particular platform.
Your questions on “What is reverb?” and more have now been answered. Don’t be afraid to start experimenting in Studio, and incorporating this transformative effect into your productions.
About the author
Nick Messitte is a New York-based writer, mastering engineer, mixing engineer, post engineer, composer, producer, musician, and weapons-grade plutonium smuggler.