Reverb holds the power to take your mix from sounding dead to alive. But, it also comes with the risk of making your mix unintelligible and frustrating to the listener.
Good news is, there are a few simple techniques you can employ to harness all the benefits of reverb while protecting your mix from becoming unclear.
The Reverb Golden Rule
In general, the best way to mix reverb is to turn it up until you can hear it and then dial it back until it blends in with the mix. In other words, you should notice when it is missing but not necessarily notice it is there.
Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
- In some songs, you may actually want to hear the reverb. For example, when we sing Miracles by Jesus Culture, I prefer the reverb on the lead vocal to be a bit above the ‘blending in’ spot to give it more space and depth.
- In high energy songs, you may want less reverb. For example, when we sing Limitless by Planetshakers, the lead vocal sounds best with only enough reverb to keep the vocal from sounding super dry. Too much reverb on the lead vocal in a song like this makes the fast moving lyrics hard to understand.
3 Reverbs You Should Be Using
There is plenty of room for creativity with reverb. But when it comes to church sound, I have found the following three reverbs are a great way to achieve great sound while keeping it simple.
Plate Reverb for Vocals
When it comes to live sound at church, plate reverb works the best for vocals. It is bright, clean and has a bit of a sparkle/sizzle, which adds brilliance to vocals.
The two things you want to dial in on this reverb is the decay and pre delay.
- Decay determines how long reverb lasts. I generally set this between 3-4s, which leaves a nice, beautiful trail of reverb. This works especially well on ballads, but you may want a shorter decay time on high energy songs.
- Pre Delay keeps reverb off the first part of the sound. Setting this to around 150ms will keep vocal attacks (beginnings of words) nice and clear and help eliminate harsh s’s and t’s.
Another setting you may want to use is hi cut, which takes high frequencies out of the reverb. I recommend starting with this as high as it will go (~20kHz). Then, if you have problems with s’s and t’s coming across too harsh, dial it back to about 5kHz.
Hall Reverb for Instruments
Hall reverb is beautiful, but quite a bit ‘duller’ than plate reverb, which makes it a good option for instruments. Giving instruments a different reverb than vocals will help keep separation between the two and the vocals clean and clear.
Decay is the setting you want to focus on with this reverb. I generally set decay between 2-3s, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
Keep in mind, many instrumentalists dial in their own reverb. For example, electric guitarists use pedals for reverb and keyboards may use MainStage or the built-in reverb on their keyboard. So, only add reverb if they still sound too dry or you are struggling to get it to blend.
Side Note: There are certain times when you may want to use plate and hall reverb on vocals. For example, if you have a ballad where the vocal should occupy lots of space, adding hall with plate reverb will add space to the ‘warm’ frequencies.
Most reverb processors have a setting for drums. For example, the Behringer X32 has a preset called ‘Drum Treat’ which is what I am currently using. If a drum room preset is not available, a small to medium bright room would be a good choice.
Add this reverb to your snare and overhead microphones – possibly your toms as well if you feel like they need more depth. The kick drum should remain dry unless you are using reverb for some kind of special effect.
Use the golden rule mentioned above by turning it up until you can hear it and then dialing it back to where it blends in with the mix.
Don’t forget the kill switch for vocal reverb.
If you are not used to reverb on vocals, one issue you will run into is reverb being on a vocal who starts talking into the microphone. You need to be ready to cut reverb in these moments because reverb on a talking mic is extremely frustrating to the listener.
Find a way to designate a ‘kill switch’ to vocal reverbs. For example, on the Behringer X32, you can assign a mute group to the FX busses that control the vocal reverb.
X32 Users: Here’s a Bonus for You
If you are using the Behringer X32 (or Midas M32), I have put together a cheatsheet for how to set up these three reverbs using built-in presets.