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.