A few years ago, while studying and comparing great mixes with my own, I started to notice something. All the mixes I loved were so dry. Seriously, go listen to some top 40 music on iTunes. How much reverb do you hear on the lead vocal?
For many, reverb is a crutch. Let’s face it – throwing a nice plate or hall on a vocal or instrument is a quick and easy way to blend it in, impress clients, and sweeten things up. However, excessive reverb is a clear signpost of an amateur mix job. Adding reverb is an automatic for many newbies, but it’s a habit that must be broken. Too much reverb starts to cloud your mix, almost as if there was some hazy film over the music that’s masking all detail. And the line between enough and too much is an easy one to cross.
I’ve always had a general aversion to reverb. I hated hearing it in my mix, but i wanted the effect of depth and space. For me, the solution to my reverb woes was delay. I like short delays on a lead vocal, which provide the depth of a reverb without pushing it back in the mix. Longer delays are great for a more lush sound, and a standard quarter note delay can blend a track into the mix beautifully without contributing excess mush. Delay is my tool for space and depth, saving reverb for when i want an obvious effect.
These days, I’ll often only have a couple reverbs on a dense rock or metal mix – one or two for drums, and a long verb for vocals that’s only for automating a trail on the end of phrases. Mixing without verb forces you to go that extra mile when EQing and balancing your tracks.
I challenge you this week to take a reverb holiday. Try leaving things dry or substituting delays where you would normally have verbs. My guess is that your mixes will start sounding a little more like the pros.