Depending on the type of reverb, changes to vocals will differ from being transparent and clear sounding to being washed away and shiny. Having a plan of what you want to do with your track will help you greatly to create the best sound ever.
Reverb adds body to vocals
Reverb adds space and sustain to vocals, making them fuller, while restoring that ‘natural’ sound as if the vocalist was singing while standing next to you. Additionally, reverb helps vocals to ‘sit’ in the mix, whether that means being upfront, or blending in the background for effect.
Apply Reverb with Understanding
Before applying a specific type of reverb, you should have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.
It starts with the emotion and feeling that the listeners will have while listening to your music.
After that, you should specify for yourself the genre of the track because certain limitations follow some genres. For example, a reverb with a long decay time will destroy your punk-rock song, and a reverb with a short decay time will bring chaos to a meditation spa track.
Then, you should decide which part of the track needs to be the anchor of the attention of the listeners. In accordance with the decision, you should use long or short-decayed reverbs.
Finally, if you’re up to experimentation and no stranger to exquisite combinations, you can overlay a few reverbs, but keep in mind that overdoing reverbs isn’t that much fun.
In addition, these days, vocals are recorded in the following fashion a vocalist stays close to the condenser mic. Condenser mics are mainly used because they give a detailed sound that is also accurate with lots of high-end. The results of such recording are the sound that is ‘in your face’ that needs applying reverb so that the vocal track would sit better in the mix. In case you don’t use the condenser mic for recording, you still would benefit from applying reverb as it would add space to the sound and balance everything in the mix.
What is reverb?
Reverberation is a natural phenomenon when the initial sound is reflected from all the surfaces in the particular space and decays after some time. Reverb itself is an effect that emulates precisely that phenomenon.
Reasons to use reverb on vocals
The obvious reason why you need to use reverb is so that there won’t be any awkward feeling that there is absolutely no noise, absence of space, and the vocalist dryly singing some words right into your ears.
But there are more reasons than that.
Firstly, you should know that using reverb on the vocals is deeply connected with the emotion that you want your composition to provoke in listeners. You may know several examples of using the reverb with precisely this idea in mind.
For instance, Adele “Hello”. The very first ‘hello’ in the song has a reverb applied to it, and we get a strong feeling that she came into the empty house and nobody is there to answer. So, before choosing which reverb to use in a particular composition, you should know which spectrum of emotions the listener will get.
Secondly, reverbs help to either glue the vocals and the mix, or it can save the energy of the track if you choose to use short ones. If you pick reverbs with long decay time, you should understand that it fits the best slow-genres such as ballads, folk, classical, old-style country, alternative, and indie. As it has a longer decay time, reverb will blur everything else in the song, and you won’t be able to preserve energy and bounce of the track. But if you want to compose fast dance, pop, or hip-hop music, using as short reverbs as possible will emphasize the liveliness of the track.
Thirdly, reverbs help greatly when certain parts of the song need to be more emphasized and when you need contrast in the song. Most commonly, audio engineers and music producers tend to use a reverb that makes the vocal more intimate during the main line of the story, which is depicted in verses, and a more spacious reverb when it’s time for a chorus. Changing reverbs in such a fashion makes the listeners feel as if they got out from the tiny place to outside and saw and heard the whole world buzzing around. Alternatively, you can use reverb to underline a specific word, expression, or phrase in the song, if it goes well in accordance with the story to be told in verse.
If you want to set the front-to-back imaging of the composition correctly, you will lean on the knowledge that reverbs with short pre-delays and late reflections give you the sound of something being further away. While reverbs with long pre-delay and early reflections give you the sound of something being almost in front of you. Also, adding more reverb will make the sound farther away, and adding as less as possible will place the singer as close as possible.
Lastly, using reverbs can open you to a world of interesting ideas and combinations. If you have some time for experimentation, you might get very interesting results. You should not be afraid of overlaying a few reverbs. But you should stay conscious about not overusing reverbs because it would mean the experiment has gone wrong.
If you overdo it
Some may say and stay their ground that there is no such thing as overusing reverb. They would add that if you like what you’re hearing, then everything is fine.
There are three forms of reverb, such as a feeling reverb, a reverb with a short decay, and a reverb with long decay. Each of them can be easily overdone if you don’t know where you should stop.
The feeling reverb is so delicate that you most likely never hear it, but surely you can feel it. Hence the name. So in order not to overuse this reverb, you should add more of it to the point when it’s obvious and then roll it off a bit.
The reverb with a short decay is typically used on the vocals to add more space. You should be careful while dialing in this reverb so that it won’t consume dry signals.
The reverb with long decay is commonly used when you create ambient tracks that long for relaxing and soothing vocals accompanied by guitars or other instruments. To use it wisely, you should choose one instrument or vocal to apply it to. You will be in trouble if you apply it to whole tracks in your mix.
In addition, there is one indicator that always shows whether you have enough or you can add more. If the tail of the current reverb overlaps and muffles the next phrase, well, congrats, you’ve overdone it. The problem with the long tail is that it makes the vocal completely inaudible. On top of that, it creates a never-ending feedback loop and it forges new frequency range, which conflicts with already existing frequency ranges and messes everything up even further.
So, it’s a no-brainer that it’s a much better idea to use reverbs with a specific goal in mind.
Types of reverbs
There are several types of reverbs that are beneficial to use for vocals, such as the chamber, room, hall, cathedral, spring, and plate.
Using room reverbs will help you to glue the mix together and add beautiful textures to the vocals. You should remember that room reverbs are better to use in folk and jazz, though you can experiment with them in other genres as well. Chamber reverbs are always transparent and in the majority of cases, you can use them when you want to make the vocals sound clearer. Hall reverbs are your choice when you need something triumphant and majestic. So, you shouldn’t add them to punk rock and other genres, which are characterized by fast tempos.
Cathedral reverbs are good to use in choral-like music, something like Era or Georgian-style tracks would benefit from these reverbs. Spring reverbs would be beneficial to use in any experimental genre of music and indie. Plate reverbs are always a good idea when you need to make vocals more present and shiny.