Kim Lajoie's blog

Monitoring with reverb

by Kim Lajoie on May 18, 2012


No, not that monitoring. I’m talking about feeding a reverb-processed version of a singer’s voice back into her/his headphones as s/he is recording.

Don’t do it

For years I’ve preferred to give singers no reverb in their headphones. The intent is that they can clearly hear the details in their voice and thus deliver a better performance.

It’s for the same reason that I usually have my singers monitor through some gentle compression and top-end boost. It’s so they can hear the details in their voice. I find that the top-end boost in particular usually results in a noticeable improvement in the singer’s intonation. Try it.

Occasionally a singer will ask for some reverb, and I happily oblige. Whatever the singer is used to or makes her/him more comfortable. But unless s/he asks, I don’t offer.

Do it

This year I’ve started a project where the reverb is an integral part of the creative direction and the sound of the project. Specifically, we’re talking ValhallaShimmer being fed by the lead vocal at unity. In other words, the reverb is just as loud as the vocal. And if you’ve never used or heard Shimmer, you need to know that it’s not a regular reverb – it’s designed for plate-like intergalactic ambient washes. And there’s a pitch shifter in the feedback path. So it’s pretty distinctive. And I’m using a lot of it.

Not for a subtle sense of air or ambience, but as a synthetic pad-like sound that’s triggered by the vocal. Multi-second pitch shifting voice-like ghosts that sometimes overpower the rest of the track.

So, a few weeks ago I started recording final vocals for the project and I thought to try having the singer monitor through the reverb. Because the reverb responds very sensitively to the voice and is such an important part of the sound, I guessed that hearing the way the reverb responds to the voice would affect the singer’s performance.

And it did.

She felt that singing with the reverb was a little bit like singing with another musician. The reverb would respond to her performance, and then her performance would respond to the reverb. It also helped her to perform in a way that better suited the music (the rest of the instruments were mostly dry).

Do what you want

The fact that I had a situation where it made sense to monitor through reverb doesn’t mean my initial assumptions were false or that my ‘old ways’ were wrong. What happened was that I was working on a project that didn’t abide by my usual approach of using reverb subtly in the background and applying it toward the end of the mixing process.

This is not a ‘shake things up’ or ‘try something new‘ post. It’s not about changing work habits just for the sake of it. Your work habits are habits for a reason. They’re habits because they work for you and help you make music. Don’t ignore that.

But always be aware of your work habits and, more importantly, be aware of the reasons for your work habits. When you come across a situation where the reasons don’t apply or aren’t suitable, be prepared to take a different approach.


2 thoughts on “Monitoring with reverb

  1. Kelton Gomes says:

    “But always be aware of your work habits and, more importantly, be aware of the reasons for your work habits. ” That’s the point.

    Sometimes reverb is a fundamental part of the performance, as seen with chillwave artists like Washed Out, Toro y Moi, Neon Indian etc…

    I already use a comp while tracking vocals, never thought about using a hi boost, I’ll try it next time…

    Cheers from Brazil!


  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    That’s right – it depends on the music!


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