Tech Talk #004: Reverb

Reverb is all around us, it gives dimension to the things we perceive by ear. It can make things sound very large, small, far or nearby. Reverb is an extremely handy tool to work with in your projects and i would like to give you some insights on how to use them like i do.

First off lets talk about the different ways we can implement reverb, off course there are excellent hardware units like the well known Lexicon 224 and many others. But hey, it’s the 21st century so we are quit up to speed when it comes to software versions of these baby’s. Lexicon is doing a wonderful job with there plugins and manufacturers like Universal Audio, Audio Ease, D16 Group and Native Instruments have some excellent reverb plugins to.

When it comes to types and character of reverb you can think of 5 different once:

PLATE: Which is essentially done by big plates vibrating after a sound wave strikes the surface.
SPRING: Very similar concept as a plate reverb but in this case the sound waves are received by a spring.
ROOM: A very short reverb typically under 1 second and the name describes most of the sound.
CHAMBER: A little longer/bigger then a room verb but still pretty short.
HALL: The name says it already, it’s mostly longer than 1 to 3 seconds and good for a bigger sound.

Here’s a little insight on how i work with these different type of reverbs categorized in groups:

BEATS: Try playing around with reverb on your beat elements/percussion to make them glue together and give it a little more character and depth. Most of the time i will grab something simple, a room reverb like the Toraverb by D16 Group, Valhalla Room by ValhallaDSP or even the stock plugins of your DAW in my case Ableton and/or Logic. I hear a lot of productions sounding really dry, nothing is really part of a bigger picture so definitely look into reverb to get there. With the room reverb you can really get the single elements to sound far more interesting then without.

VOCALS: For vocals i am a big fan of plate reverbs like the EMT140/250 by Universal Audio, it gives that special character to the sound which i really like, when i am looking for a bigger sound i try out some hall reverb, usually the Space Designer in logic which comes with a huge library of different reverb options, even a smaller/shorter sounding reverb can be very nice if you would like the vocal to be in your face and more on top of the mix. You can also think of the famous way how the vocals by Phil Collins are recorded which is really upfront and a lot of other artist from the 80’s tended to use the same effect.

SYNTHS: On synths, piano and other instruments i love to use hall type reverbs to make them sound bigger in the mix, without it it sounds really dry and you will get the feeling the sound is in your face to much which in case of vocals is awesome but i personally don’t really like it on synths and piano. On guitars on the other hand when strumming a very short reverb sounds really great! If you are ever working with guitar you have to try this out, you will definitely like it!

Here are some more tips to work with reverb as a effect:

GATED REVERB: Did you ever had a very nice clap or cymbal with a great sound but just missed a little tail or fullness and a normal reverb just didn’t seam to work? Well try adding a reverb on the channel, put a gate on the reverb and make sure u also send the clap/cymbal to a muted bus channel so you can use it as a sidechain input for the gate plugin, after setting it up the gate will respond to the original source and you can use more extreme reverb settings but make the gate adjust the length of the effect.

REVERSED REVERB: You probably hear this in a lot on my vocal productions as i am a big fan of reversing the reverb effect of the first small part of the vocal so it announces the vocal before it hits. I do this by duplicating the channel and taking the first part of the vocal (the first letter of the first word for example) than adding a little fade out on it so it does not click at the end, then i’ll add a big and long reverb to it and bounce that down to a new audio file. When that’s done you simply reverse the file and line it up so it works with the vocal, you can do this with different parts of the vocal and in different places off course.

Once again i hope you can use these tips in your own productions, don’t forget to like and share the post so everybody gets to know these tips and let’s help each other get better productions! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask..



Tech Talk #003: Distortion & Saturation

For this 3rd Tech Talk i wanted to talk to you about Distortion & Saturation.

Two very handy tools that can make your individual sounds or entire mix more interesting, fuller, phatter and can really help to add that missing element or analog warmth you are looking for.

“With analog gear, distortion usually appears when circuits are overloaded”

Off course the first thing that comes to mind must be something that sounds really bad right? Well, you have a point there.. you can set things up very extreme and make it sound really nasty as a effect for example or work with it more subtle to change the sound in a more forgiving way.

Whenever i use distortion i always tend to use it pretty subtle to make things a little fuller or let it appear to hit harder for example like snares or sometimes parts of the different kick layers i am using.

Sometimes i am looking for a specific effect like when i am layering synths or basses underneath the original sound, i can add some extra harmonics by doing so which really complements the sound in most cases.

Another great use of distortion is to use it to lower the transients (peaks) of sounds so they don’t hit the compressor or limiter to hard. You can do this with sounds that have a high peaks and lower RMS level by adding a distortion plugin with neutral settings so the plugin is just there but not audible, when you look at your meters in the mixer you will see that the peaks in most cases have dropped but the actual loudness appearance stays the same, if your goal is to make things louder this is also the tool to grab but remember to be careful not to destroy your sounds off course. Play around with this and see what happens in your tracks.

Next to distortion we also have ‘Saturation’ which i use very often inside my tracks on all thinkable elements, i really like the way saturation plugins like ‘Decapitator’ by Soundtoys or ‘Saturn’ by FabFilter (which i demo’d the other day) warms up the sound.

“Back in the day when studio’s where using tape they had to be careful, when recording to low you can really hear the noise from the tape and when recording to loud.. well, this is where saturation starts to happened”

Saturation can be used in different ways off course but just like distortion, subtlety is the way to go!

Whenever i think the sound is a little thin or maybe the master misses just that final touch of warmth i’ll add some saturation, maybe one of the previously named plugins or maybe some tape saturation like the Ampex ATR-102 by Universal Audio (really love that one!) or one of the many other plugins, Waves Audio also offer lots of great tools for saturation and tape emulation.

Also try some of the tape emulations on vocals, they really work well together with the right settings and maybe some feedback delay.

Again the best thing is to try things for yourself and learn just like i did, every mix and every sound is different and there are so many things you can do with different plugins and gear.

I really hope you enjoyed this tech talk, if you have any questions about this months Tech Talk please don’t hesitate to ask!


Tech Talk #002

Tech Talk #002: Working With Compression

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a very special device that helped us control the levels instead of doing things by hand? Well, someone beat us to it.. In 1925 a man named Harold Wheeler invented ‘Automatic Gain Control’ and it was used in almost every radio receiver to control the loudness of audio and different signals strengths.

Nowadays we use a more advanced version that we know as a ‘Compressor’ with lots of possibilities when it comes to control and different character in sound.The era of working in the box makes it even easier for us to use the compressor, with tons of presets and extra controls that the original hardware versions might not even have.

Let’s dive into some workflow tips for different purposes when it comes to working with compression shall we?

(I assume you have some basic knowledge of how a compressor works, if not please check out for some basics on how to work with the compressor settings and what all the controls are for)

When adding a compressor u can easily overdo the effect that you are aiming for and totally get the opposite result, the key is to really listen and try adjusting things subtly without any gain boosts that give you the impression that its sounds better just because things are louder. Try level matching things so you can really judge what effect the settings have that you have just set.

I find it very helpful to set the threshold very high so you can easily hear the different attack, release and ratio settings, try adjusting them and than roll back the threshold so the gain reduction peaks of just a little, with (electronic) drums i usually aim at 2db / 3db unless you are aiming for a special effect, with vocals and acoustic elements it really depends on the recording of the sound but again.. the key is to not overdo things because you can easily make things sound lifeless and thin and that’s the opposite of what you want right?

On the busses/groups or master channel its also a very good idea to keep things easy, don’t overdo it and try aiming at a gain reduction around 2db / 3db just to ‘glue’ things together in the mix with a ratio of 2:1, this can really do magic by controlling the peaks just a little. Don’t forget to level match so you can really hear what you are doing and don’t be afraid the experiment little.

Another very cool trick is ‘New York Compression’ also known as parallel Compression, you can use this in a variety of ways and this depends on what you are working on. Is it a single sound or a bus/group or even on the master channel as a special effect?

Let’s say you have a single clap but you find it to sound a little thin, this trick can really spice things up a lot! grab a compressor (that for this purpose has a dry/wet control) and set the threshold and ratio pretty high, adjust the attack/release settings so you hear the result that sound good to your ears and turn the dry/wet (mix) knob all the way down to 0% now turn it up just a little to mix in the effect of the extreme compressor settings that you have just entered, i usually end up mixing it in at about 7% to 10% just for that little extra it adds but you can do this to taste. This way of setting up the parallel effect also works on the busses/groups and master but be careful as always not to overdo the effect.

Last but not least is sidechain compression, this is the well known ducking effect that got really famous with the French house sound that Daft Punk did back in the days. Off course today it is used in a variety of different ways, you can really make room for the kick when the bass and kick share the same frequencies by ducking the bass every time the kick hits. also setting a 1/8th note to the sidechain input can help you with some good mixing effects, there are a lot more things i can say about this subject but i would like to ask you to try out different things yourself on vocals, synths, effects.. you name it!

I hope you again enjoyed this new tech talk, please let me know what you think and if you have any questions about this tech talk or the previous one please let me know..

Happy music making!


Tech Talk #001

Tech Talk #001: Working with Frequencies

From my own personal experience, working with lower frequencies can be quite a struggle. Things like kick, bass, synths, toms (you name it) all share some of the lower part of the frequency spectrum and sometimes even the same. The sub i pretty easy right? it’s there but how do you get all these elements to work together and make more space in the mix so all the elements are there and have there own space to work in.

These are some of my personal workflow tips i always use to get these elements going, first it’s pretty important to know that even something like a cymbal can have low end frequencies in the recording so it’s a good idea to put a low cut on almost everything just to the point you start to hear the cut to clean things up, this will help to make things stand out more in the final result.

It’s quite handy to keep a note frequency chart nearby so you can find the frequencies corresponding with the key of your track:

Let’s say the bass is in F that corresponds with 87.2Hz as you can see on the chart, it would be a good idea to make sure the kick stands out a little more by lowering the bass a few db’s with a narrow Q at this frequency and boosting the kick a little at the same frequencies with a narrow Q. Let one or the other be prominent by cutting out one and boost the other.

I usually put a low cut on the kick and bass as far as 30Hz to 40Hz since frequencies below 30Hz are not audible anyway. The power of the bassline is also usually more in the upper region at around 100Hz to 300Hz so try focusing on this region instead to get the boom in you mix.

There are probably tons of more tips i could think of and you might have your own ways of doing this so please share them in the comments below and do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions for me!

Next month you can find another tech talk right here on my page!

Looking forward to reading your thoughts! please share, like and comment!