Depth marker postThis is a guest post by Björgvin Benediktsson of Audio Issues.

Reverb is the #1 way to make your mixes sound amateurish. I’ve done it, you’ve done it. Hell, even those master mixers went through a whole decade doing it.

Although reverb is really useful to create depth and space in a mix, it’s easy to go overboard. So how can you add depth and space to your instruments without piling on the reverb?

1. Use Delay

Look at delays like Reverb Lite. It’s like reverb in the way that it creates a sense of space, but it lacks the reverb trail that often clutters up a mix. You see, 2-second reverbs sound great on vocals, but the decay and tail is so long that it clutters up everything else that’s going on. So next time, use delays to create a sense of depth around your instrument instead of cluttering up your mix with long reverb trails.

2. Re-amp

Re-amping is a great way of creating depth without adding unnecessary space. Re-amp a guitar part with a different microphone, through a different amp, or from a greater distance away. Miking up a guitar part using distant miking creates a sense of depth without making it sound too “reverb-y.” Use it for other instruments as well, keyboards, bass and synths can all benefit from re-amping.

If you don’t have an amplifier at your disposal, turn off one of your monitors and record the other one. Adding a miked up bass part underneath a DI’d signal will give you a rounder tone. The microphone picks up the movement of the air from your monitor, creating realistic depth without muddying up your signal.

3. Modulation

If delay is Reverb Lite, then modulation effects are Reverb Extra Small. Modulation effects such as chorus and flanger are great for creating a little depth without adding any space. Send your instrument to a auxiliary send and insert a chorus effect underneath the untreated signal. Just a tiny bit can give you the depth you need.

4. Create Stereo with EQ

Automatic double tracking is a simple trick to create depth, but you can enhance it with EQ. If you EQ both signal differently, there will an even more apparent stereo effect, more like two different guitar parts are playing rather than the same one being played twice. Try it for doubled acoustic guitar or hard rock riffs. Adding a touch of different EQ boosts and cuts to each signal separates them more than just simply delaying one.

No Need for Reverb

You don’t always have to resort to reverb for depth. Next time you need to separate your instruments and create some depth, try avoiding the reverb altogether. Delays, double tracking and modulation effects can work just as well.

Björgvin Benediktsson is an audio engineer, musician and online entrepreneur from Iceland. He’s been involved in the music and audio industry for almost a decade, playing in bands, working as a sound engineer and recording music.

You can follow Björgvin on Twitter at www.twitter.com/audioissues as well as learn more about audio at his website Audio Issues.

Joe’s Response:

Awesome ideas, Björgvin! While I don’t think that reverb always muddies up a mix, it’s nice to know that it’s not the ONLY way to achieve depth.

I love the idea of re-amping using a studio monitor. I’d never thought of that, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for the great info!

The rest of you, leave a comment below!!

  • Delay and reverb actually have a lot in common. If you’re a guitar player, try combing a long delay with a short delay. That will give you the reverb effect you’re after. You may also want to check out my blog: http://www.playguitarlive.com/

  • Elijah

    Simple is more. With technology and software processing options, a lot of people think that you need pile on effect and effect to sound “pro.” When all you really need is a “pro” sound to begin with (during recording). Let the equipment (and the talent) do the work for you!

    • Andrew K

      These effects are the building blocks of a mix in 2016. You can have all the talent in the world, but if has potato quality no one will listen to it. The technology is a tool to make the sound **quality** “pro”. Using this software in the right way is a talent in it self.

      • I half agree, but you can’t lump all music into one category. If I’m making straight rock songs, I don’t need a bunch of synths and samples etc. I just need bass, drums, and two guitars. Needing lots of effects/plugins totally depends on the style of music.

  • CamBam

    Could you stereo mic vocals with two (signifigcantly) different mics?

    • Sure you could. Some folks do that so they have two options during mixdown to choose from. I personally feel like the lead vocal is really important. Two mics on it would inevitably have SOME phase issues, which I’d like to avoid if possible.

  • Darnell Gaines

    Will any of that info work well with vocals…that’s what I primarily work with…acappella gospel

    • I would think so, but you’ll have to try it to find out.

  • Pingback: When Delay is Better - 5 Reasons to Skip the Reverb | Audio Issues()

  • mukul

    thanks all of you. i am trying all of ur advice/comments. I have been recording rthym guitar through mic and through a gear box at a same time using the “extreme left and right theory. And got ththe total sterio deft. I’ll try this ooon others. thanks all of you.

  • Great article! The explanation of delay, chorus, and flanger is really helpful. I love the idea of re-amping and double tracking.

  • Awesome! Article on re-amping now??

  • Thanks for all the comments! I’m glad everyone enjoyed the tips. However, I’m confused as to where everyone gets the feeling that I think reverb always muddies up a mix. I certainly never say that in the article, since reverb is a very important aspect of mixing, but there are certainly alternatives to the good ol’ reverb.

  • patrick dominic

    Thanks bro. I think that was a great tip but,strongly rejects the idea that reverb causes muddiness. It depends on the amount and decay time or probably wrong usage. All things being equal, thanks for the tip.

  • I love these ideas! I just finished up a segment on reverb for MixLessons.com and I now wish I included some of these tips!

  • roger

    I honestly don’t believe that reverb always muddies up a mix. Yes, it can bring a lot of mud to a mix, like a wrong EQ will do, or even like reamping/ adding too much delay or modulation will easily do if use the in the wrong way. These are great tips and I thank you for it, please don’t get me wrong! But I think that these tips are complementary or an alternative to reverb. I hope that “the whole decade” has nothing to do with the 80’s. 🙂
    Cheers and thanks again for these great tips.

    • I’m with you Roger. One could argue that we shouldn’t use bass because it muddies up the mix. It doesn’t HAVE to, if you know how to use it properly. But yeah, great tips.

  • One of my favorite records of all time, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, had almost no ‘verb on it whatsoever. It’s such a great, up-front, in-your-face album with a lot of presence and just a killer, classic sound. Obviously, that old cliche about less being more holds up! Limitations and restrictions can very often be our very best friends as creators.

    • Very cool. Do you know the story behind the album? Why they didn’t use reverb? It would be awesome if the reason was, “Yeah, our reverb unit was broken that week.”

      • The only thing i’ve seen is he just had a rule that he didn’t want reverb or synthesizers. According to Pop Matters, he didn’t want any effects at all, which i didn’t even realize!

        I remember the first recordings i made on my Fostex 4-track, way back around 1990, and i never used reverb back then, and i thought it sounded cool that way. It makes things sound more up-front and present, less distant (as you know). And it’s just different enough to sound unique.

        I definitely don’t think every recording has to have reverb, or even most. That’s a paradigm which is just completely unnecessary. No accounting for taste, of course, and i can dig that most people like to hear it. But i wonder how much of our desire to hear reverb is simply conditioning, the result of decades of pop records recorded in halls and with plates and other artificial substitutes? Or centuries of listening to music in largish performance spaces? Or, maybe it’s just an echo of our cave-dwelling origins!

  • Ian’s Shepherd

    The suggestion of EQ is interesting – it will work nicely with a chorus or ADT effect where the two signals are different. Don’t be tempted to try EQ-ing two copies of the same thing to sound different, though – it will just sound weird.

    Even better – double-track for real, and pan the two versions hard right and hard left to get more depth. Vary the rhythm slightly to avoid a ‘wall of sound’ – it can sound great to have the two parts bouncing sections of the riff between each other.

    Ian

    • I love the idea of two parts bouncing back and forth, differing ever-so-slightly in rhythm…but it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds! 🙂

  • Bob Sorace

    I actually tried the re-amping through the studio monitors, and it worked really well, I’ve only done it once, but it worked! I also use the EQ trick on background vocals to separate each vocal. Since I’m the only one singing each track, I figured by EQ’ing each track differently it would give the illusion of more then just me singing the same line. I’ve also tried “nudging” the vocals a bit here and there as well. For guitars, I’ve started to record one distortion track panned hard right, and the same part recorded with just a little fuzz panned hard left. You can barely make out the the clean part in the context of the mix, but it sure does the trick.

    • Yeah, limiting how much distortion you use on doubled tracks is really key to keeping those guitars sounding awesome. Too much distortion just turns them into white noise.

  • Yeah! Mic-ing a studio monitor! I’ve done that on occasion, super sweet.
    sometimes if the reverb after the vocals muddies up my mix i will gate the reverb using the vocal tack as a trigger, so that only the times when he is singing has reverb behind it!
    RE-Amping Synths is super fun if you have an amp that can handle it without breaking up the signal, i use a blues JR, and sometimes ill even add a little of the reverb on the amp in when and just mix the two signals together!
    FUN post! very nice!

    • Ever since I bought my new amp (Vox AC4 head/cab), I’ve been telling myself to start re-amping stuff. Must do that soon. 🙂

      • yeahh!
        do it!!!!
        i have an AC4 also, and i plug it through a 2×12 for synths and it sounds pretty cool!!

  • I love this information! Great stuff y’all! In fact, when I do my vocal tracks, and need to sing over myself for depth, I sing just the same, but move a bit further from the mic which gives me a different proximity effect, thus no need for EQ. Or I use a different mic. Keep the great info coming!

    • That’s a great trick for getting a double that sounds different enough — different mic placement or different mic altogether.

  • Great article! As for the muddiness of a reverb, I found that EQ’ing the reverb so it takes up less space is a nice way to add reverb, but not mask other instruments in the mix. Learned it on Pensado’s Place!

    • Absolutely. I usually do a High-Pass filter or low shelf and remove everything below 400 Hz to clean things up a lot. Sometimes I roll off the highs, too, if they’re too obvious.