All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reverb and Mastering


Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about using reverb in mastering.

The applications for reverb in mastering are in some cases I think quite obvious, but in other cases a little bit less so and some of you may be surprised to learn that reverb comes into play in mastering at all.

Application One – Reverb Tails

The first one is using reverb to lengthen the tail of a song that’s been cut off. One of my pet peeves is that an overeager engineer, or artist or producer will decide that they want to save a little bit of time in the mastering studio and cut the very beginning or the very ending to a song closely so that you don’t have to worry about doing that in the mastering studio. In doing so, they think they’re going to save themselves money in the mastering session, but invariably what happens is that they cut the beginning too close or they cut off something at the very end because their studio is noisy or they aren’t listening carefully and suddenly you end up with a song where you wish the end of the piece could go on another couple of seconds. Or there might be a noise at the end of a mix and you have to pull a fade on the tail to get a ringing note down before the noise comes in and causes an interruption in the attention of the listener. So in any case, we might use reverb to extend the tail and in this case it’s a pretty simple think to apply reverb just to the very end, have it gradually rise as the last note decays and try and create some sort of sense of a natural extension to the last note for as long as need be.

Application Two – Acoustic Space

The second place that reverb comes into play in mastering is when you are trying to match the sound of two different recordings that are coming from two different acoustic spaces – one might be dry and one might be ambient – that are going to be included in a single album’s worth of material. This comes into play most often when I’m working with something that comes from various orchestras from around the world. I’ve received recordings made in Seattle, Bratislava, Warsaw and Prague and each engineering crew has their own aesthetic about how much reverb they like to allow to creep in, or ambience they like to have creep in to the sound of the recording. In some cases they are bound by the dimensions of the space that the orchestra is playing in.

So if I’m doing a record by a single composer and their works and it’s recording in multiple places, I might apply some reverb to some of the recordings to bring them into a similar sonic universe when going from one to the next.

Application Three – Creating A Sense Of Depth

The third instance where reverb might come into play in mastering is when I want to be able to create a little bit of a sense of depth in a recording. There are those moments where I will have done everything that I can think of to do that seems to be making a recording sound better with EQ, with compression, where I just want a very tiny sense of warmth and sort of a widening and deepening of the soundstage. And more EQ is just making it worse, more compression is just making it worse and I’ll try adding a hint of a very short, not very bright bit if reverb to the sound of the recording.

My recipe is usually rolling off the top end of the reverb, setting the roll-off somewhere around 2.5 or 3 kHz, having a decay of about 2/3 of a second and just a little touch of it – sometimes that gives me just that sense of depth that I’m after in a very natural way, in a way that an EQ or a compressor is not able to do.

You have to be careful, because if you add reverb to a heavy metal tune, a punk rock tune or something that really needs to maintain it’s immediacy and edge, reverb will soften the general sense of the program usually. but It can come in handy.