Creating a Sense of Space
Scott Fritz, February 2012

Reverb is both a very complex concept, and a relatively simple one. When we record music, especially when listening back to the recording, the sense of space and depth the listener notices is almost always very different from the sense of space and depth the people who were there in the recording room would have noticed. So, enter artificial reverb. It is and has been a staple of recording for decades, and continues to evolve every day. From the original hardware plate reverbs, to more modern algorithmic reverbs, to the more recent convolution reverbs, we are always looking for new and exciting ways to add realistic (and many times, hyper-realistic) ambience to our recordings.

...as with recording in general, there really are no rules. Feel free to experiment and have fun...

As somewhat of a reverb hound, I really enjoy using different reverbs and seeing how they shape my productions. What I want to discuss here is something that some people may not consider very often, which is - combining different reverbs in a production. For a while I went through a phase of using only a single reverb (or several instances of the same) in my works. I enjoyed the confines of working more "naturally", in terms of having ONE space to utilize for all of my instrumentation. While this is a totally fine and relatively conventional way for some people to work, I have since evolved into using several different reverbs, in order to see both how they are unique to different instrumentation, and how they work together.

Sound Examples

Sound Examples

Sound examples are from 'Wrong Places' by TJ Courtney, provided by Scott Fritz.

To start with an example, in a rock production like this one, an upcoming single "Wrong Places" by Massachusetts-based artist TJ Courtney (www.tjcourtney.com), I like to get a very punchy, larger-than-life drum sound. In order to help with that, I usually set up two different reverbs to start - the first, a vintage plate reverb (the fantastic TSAR-1 Reverb) in this example to add a bit of "haze" to the whole kit, especially helping with the snare drum decay. I set the reverb time to be somewhere in between the length of the snare drum hits, in order to really bring out the whack of the snare and add decay to it. I will send a very small amount of the whole kit through this reverb as well if I want to create just a bit deeper of an overall live-in-the-room feel to the track.

I usually set up the classic Lexicon Tiled Room preset for the wide, quick ambience that tracking in a good sized drum room would provide. This preset helps with the low end girth of the drum kit as well - and decays VERY quickly so that it gets out of the way after making a big initial impact. So, in this case, think of the Lexicon as the initial energy burst reflections, which are then picked up and carried out by the TSAR-1 Reverb. Since the Tiled Room is dialed in brighter and the TSAR-1 Reverb is dialed in darker here, this makes sense physically as well. I will then add a touch of Tiled Room to the bass sometimes as well, to disperse some of the energy around the stereo field and add some more low end weight around the stereo spectrum. This just depends on whether the exact song needs it or not. You can hear sound examples of the drums and bass both with and without added reverb to the right together with a full mix of the example track "Wrong Places"

Moving on to guitars, I like to dial in a good, dense studio ambience to add to the rhythm tracks. In this case, the versatile TSAR-1 Reverb makes another great option. With little to no predelay, this makes the source signal feel very close and tight. I usually leave the high frequencies somewhat present in guitars in order to bring out their attack a bit more. For lead guitars, I will usually add some of the vintage plate reverb from the drums in order to both homogenize the drums and guitar, and to draw out the decay of solo passages a bit and blend them into the track, especially since lead guitars quite often have to have some pretty biting tones in order to cut through large mixes.

For vocals, there really are no "standard" rules I follow, but this is quite often a good approach for me to use. Much like with drums, I enjoy using 2 different reverbs - one to disperse the mono vocal out to the stereo field quickly and relatively drastically (the studio TSAR-1 Reverb in this case), followed by a lengthier plate to meld the vocal into the mix (in this case, a Bricasti M7). Playing with the balance between them is a lot of fun, as the depth-of-field can be changed pretty drastically with just a few changes to each.

This is only one example and of course, as with recording in general, there really are no rules. Feel free to experiment and have fun, what you end up with might just surprise you and your listeners!

© 2012 Scott Fritz
Scott Fritz is the president and producer of the Chicago-based studio Stranded On A Planet. Recently recorded artists include Amirah, Nadia Ali, Cavalier King, Michael Angelo Batio, Martha Berner, A Friend Called Fire, Karen Kiley, The Hawthorne Effect, and Voice Of Addiction