How to Creatively Use Multiple Reverbs in One Mix

Reverb within a mix is near enough mandatory. However, it’s incredibly easy to overcook a mix with ambience, even though modern mixes are increasingly becoming less reverb heavy.

Using reverb effectively can take a mix – and the song – to another level. But with many productions becoming increasingly busy and complex, the crucial space for this near-essential effect can become difficult to navigate.

In this tutorial we’ll look at various ways you can creatively optimize your use of reverb, particularly in productions which may prove otherwise tricky.

Learn the Rules…

One of the most universal or commonly known reverb “rules” is to avoid inserting a single reverb on each individual track or channel.

Not only is this incredibly computer-processor-hungry, you won’t do your mix any great favors, layering reverb on top of reverb, on top of reverb, and so on! (And if you’re working out-of-the-box, unless you have stacks of reverb racks this becomes fairly impossible anyway.)

As you can hear, the part is almost immediately swamped, and would certainly not fit well within a mix when other components are pulled in.

This is an over-the-top example, but serves well. There are only six tracks (kick, snare, ride, OH, and two room mics) within this project. Imagine what could happen to a project with 30 tracks!

The usual solution is to set up an auxiliary/effects track and send/bus any tracks you wish to be processed by the reverb. In other words, any tracks within the mix can now be sent to simply one individual reverb. This is almost a direct replication of older desk mixes, and keeps the reverb in your mix clean, tight and under control.

You can get with this, or you can get with that track when mixing

Using a reference track when mixing might be the best proverbial compass to guide you to the mix you were striving for. Using a similar song with a similar sound, style or structure as a reference track to A/B your mix is a practice endorsed by even the most professional engineers.

Having this reference guideline will keep you in bounds during the build of your mix. This is particularly helpful in checking a final mix, but can also help along the way to reference EQ, Panorama, dynamics, levels, reverb size and so much more.

When working with a client, it is always a good idea to ask them to provide a reference track for what they envisioned their song to sound like. Granted, you should always keep their expectations in line, particularly if you are mixing something you didn’t track, and the quality is less than ideal. Regardless, this type of A/B’ing will not only make your mix better, it will help to hone your skills as a mix engineer.

Live Sound: Always Too Quiet or Too Loud?

One of the things I love about working in live sound is the dynamic range available. It’s not unusual for me to mix a song that starts out quiet and eventually builds to a crescendo 20 dB higher. That kind of range can feel great in the room, heightening the music’s emotional impact.

Music, however, is just the tip of the iceberg in modern worship services. The services I mix every week run the gamut from conversation-level speech up to what I would consider the lower-end of concert-level music. This typically adds up to about 30-40 dB of dynamic range. This range feels great and natural inside the room, but here’s the challenge: not everybody listens to the mix in my room.

The first thing I do to achieve this is to get the levels of different programming elements as close together as possible. Music, spoken word, and playback elements such as videos all sit at different levels in the room. I like to level these out by assigning them to different busses feeding into the matrix section of the console.

But this is just the start, because there can still be a lot of dynamic range within the mix. For example, if I have a vocalist going full bore one minute and speaking softly the next, there will be a wide dynamic range to deal with. To solve this issue, some engineers might try to use a traditional compressor or limiter in order to “turn down” the loud sections of the overall mix. Believe me, I’ve tried that. The problem is that the amount of compression needed to make this work typically leads to undesired compression artifacts.

This is where MaxxVolume comes in.

Setting up MaxxVolume in order to convert my FOH mix into a broadcast-style mix was pretty easy thanks to the virtual soundcheck feature of my Avid VENUE. It also helped that I had some tracks left over from a previous service. I started by taking off a couple dB using high-level compression. A small amount of compression on a mix can really help glue the overall mix together and give it a more finished sound. The next step was to even out the large dynamic swings within the mix; my not-so-secret weapon in taming these dynamics is MaxxVolume’s low-level compression section.

When our video team mentioned they weren’t chasing the volume in the control room anymore, I knew I was on to something. I recently did a spot-check on the feed, and all the different elements still flowed together seamlessly. I’ve been using the same settings for over two years now, which says a lot about the power of this plugin for a tweak-o-holic like me. This thing just works.