Kim Lajoie's blog

Reverb is not that important

by Kim Lajoie on March 3, 2014

Yes, I know I’ve published a lot of words about reverb. A lot. I quite like a lot of reverb. Chances are you do too. There’s something about reverb that’s much more magical than other mixing tools. Maybe because it’s the tool we use to bring back an illusion of reality (after sucking it out with close-mic techniques and direct line recording). Maybe because it’s our opportunity to add something to the mix that wasn’t there already. Maybe because long dark modulated reverbs are just delicious. 

But it’s easy to lose perspective. 

Reverb (ambience, actually) is one of the least important elements of the mix. In order (and for each channel) – level, tone and dynamics – are more important than ambience. 

Level, tone, dynamics, ambience. 

If you could only get aspect of the mix right, get the levels right. That’ll give you the overall balance and depth in the mix. Even if each channel’s tone and dynamics are all over the place, you’ll get a better mix by fixing the level of each channel than anything else. 

If the levels are in the right place, the nxt best thing you can do for the mix is to adjust the tone of the channels that need it (assuming they need it). If you had to choose between equalisers on every channel and compressors on every channel, what would you choose? 

If every channel’s level and tone are in the right place, you’re probably about 75% there. The next bang for buck will be dynamics control. Compression is very common, but it’s not the only way to control dynamics. Gates, expanders, limiters and saturators can also be useful tools for controlling the dynamics of each channel. 

If you’ve got the level, tone and dynamics of each channel right, you’ve pretty much got a mix. Ambience is the final step. And it’s last because it’s the least important part of the mix. It sits at the back of everything to provide a sense of space and dimension to the mix. But it does so from the back. Obviously reverb is the most common tool here, but delays and diffusion processors can also be used to build the ambience of the mix. 

So don’t lose perspective. Reverb is great. But it’s not the most important element of the mix. It’s the least. You get to have fun with reverb once you’ve got the level, tone and dynamics of each channel in place. 

-Kim. 

8 thoughts on “Reverb is not that important

  1. W. James Meagher says:

    Great reminder. Recently I’ve gotten into the habit, once I think I’m done the mix, of killing all the reverbs and having a listen. Sometimes I find issues in need of fixing that were being hidden by the ambience.

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    I usually add ambience as one of the last stages of mixing, so for most of the session I’ve been listening dry.

    -Kim.

  3. For some reason I also arrive at the point of adding reverb to a mix last or when it’s very near completion. I think it’s quite a natural point as almost all mix decisions need to be undertaken when the audio is in it’s raw, dry form. With some mixes, where i can hear early on that it will definitely be getting some healthy reverb treatment, I really look forward to that point where i’m going to hear it with some added space and depth. Yes, i do agree it’s possibly the least important ‘part’ of a mix but i do love it so though!

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    Agreed! I also love reverb, and it breaks my heart to use so very little of it for most of my projects. That’s one of the reasons I started Bare Toes Into Soil – to use ALL THE REVERB!

    -Kim.

  5. Jordan says:

    I personally just got back into using reverb again(convolution is so fun!) after using delay’s for so long to get my ambience. Give it a try, it adds space and air without muddying up too much, perfect for some situations.

  6. Frank Nitsch says:

    Hi Kim, thanx for this article. I consider myself as an amateur, although I must have read hundreds of guides, blog articles, books and what not about the mixing process. The number of tracks I really completed is rather small at this time.
    Right now I’m done with setting levels, panning, EQing and dynamics processing. The next step will be to set the levels of the different parts of the song to build up the overall dynamics of the song. And I’m still mixing without any reverb or delay. I started using it on some tracks along the road just because it sounds nicer, but then I decided to remove it all for now. I planned to approach this as the last step in the mixing process. It was just an idea, which sounded reasonable to me, but I wasn’t sure this is really a practical approach. Reading your article right now is a great confirmation for me. I can’t wait to add reverb and delay as I believe it will glue all tracks even better. But you are right: the other tasks are much more important. I could live with my current mix without reverb. Nevertheless I wouldn’t want to abandon that option as it will add the final touch to the track that would otherwise be missing somehow… 😉

  7. Really like the Bare Toes Into Soil material. Reminds me of some of Mark Van Hoen/Locusts music (especially the ‘Morning Light’ Album). Just subscribed to your youtube channel 🙂

  8. Kim Lajoie says:

    Cheers Loz! Glad you enjoyed it. I’ll check out those artists. Thanks.

    -Kim.

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