How to Apply Reverb Effectively

“Stop overcomplicating it!”… is what I find myself saying out loud whenever I read a forum post about how people are mathematically working out the exact amount of pre-delay and reverb time they need for the 150 reverbs in their project.

I have found people curled up in the fetal position in a dark corner of the internet, going insane because they just. wanted. the. flute. further. away!

I also get lots of questions about this from students on our film scoring and orchestral mixing courses. This has prompted me to write this short blog on how I deal with reverb in my own orchestral template, and after reading the wealth of incredibly detailed explanations of how some people treat this staple mixing tool, you may be shocked at how simple it is.

I have three reverbs. Yes, that’s right. Three.

I primarily use the excellent EastWest Spaces, as I am sure many of you do too. It is a brilliant convolution reverb, perhaps only rivalled by Altiverb, but at a fraction of the price (particularly with the student discount that you may be entitled to as a ThinkSpace Education Student), it’s a steal.

Reverb 1
My main hall reverb. This will be set up as an FX track in Cubase (or bus if you are in Logic). I like the Southern California Hall preset, or the Hamburg Cathederal preset if you want something a bit bigger. Something with a 3 – 5 second reverb tail, which seems long, but given the way we are going to use this, you won’t ever really hear it for that long. As this is set up for our instrument tracks to be sent to it as a send, we will turn the dry dial all the way down and the wet dial all the way up.
I also find the inbuilt filter in Spaces quite useful, and I will frequently cut the low end reverb below 100Hz to stop things getting too muddy down there. If you are using a different reverb that doesn’t have this feature then you can always add an EQ just under your reverb plugin.

Reverb 2
Again, this is set up as an FX track. This reverb will be a very short reverb to act as our virtual scoring stage. A reverb tail of less than a second is what we are after. I like the ACME Storage B warehouse 0.8sec for this. As before, dry dial all the way down, wet dial all the way up.

Reverb 3
This one is for my piano and I will put this as an insert on the instrument track itself rather than a send. Now this depends what you are trying to achieve with your piano, e.g. is it set back with the rest of the orchestra? Or is it front and centre taking the lead. More often than not it will probably be the latter and adding that long hall reverb to it may cause issues with an instrument with such a strong tonal attack due to the pre-delay. A similar reverb (if not the same) as your main hall reverb but with less pre-delay will do just fine. Adjust dry/wet dials to taste. You may also wish to try this with harp and pitched percussion.

Ok so maybe I told a small lie. I may use other reverbs for specific purposes such as really long 10 second reverb tails on big low percussion hits (try this on Spitfire Audio’s Easter Island hits from Albion 1), but in essence… that is it.

What next?
Now you will need to go through your template using the sends on each instrument to dial in just the right amount of reverb for each instrument. Each one is different but you will find that somewhere between -20dB and -15dB is usually about right. I recommend that you deal with the panning of each instrument at the same time as dealing with your reverb sends. Remember to place everything spatially as if each instrument is sat where the musicians in a real orchestra would be.

Most orchestral sample libraries these days are recorded with the instruments in-situ on a film scoring stage, so you probably won’t need to use Reverb 2 very much. This comes into it’s own when dealing with samples that were recorded in a very dry space, e.g. Vienna Symphonic Library (although these have a neat trick of their own which we will get to later). In cases such as these you will start by sending the track to Reverb 2 until you are happy that it sounds like it is sat in the right position on the stage, followed by adding Reverb 1 to place it in a larger hall.

Orchestral sample libraries from Cinesamples, 8dio, Orchestral Tools etc. are all recorded on a scoring stage, and often in the correct placement so Reverb 1 is probably all you will need. Some, such as Spitfire Audio, go a little bit further and you already have a great hall reverb embedded in the samples, so you might find that you don’t need any reverb at all! A nice benefit, but it can also be a curse if you want a smaller sound than Air Lyndhurst.

I mentioned that VSL libraries have a cool trick up their sleeve. In most versions of the VSL sample player you can dial in the in-built scoring stage reverb. Play with this and you can almost hear the instrumentalist in question standing up and dragging their chair back and forth on the stage. Add some Reverb 1 to the send, plus a bit of panning and job done.

Final Note
This is a rough guide and not to be taken as gospel, but you can quickly see how many people out there on the great sea of information that we call the internet take this simple concept way too far. Keeping things simple is usually the best course of action! That said, those of you working on multi-computer set ups will quickly find that you are racking up more reverbs in VEPro (or whatever you are using), although the concept remains exactly the same.

So go and give this a try. Making the most of only a few reverbs has many benefits, not least of which is less strain on your CPU, but it also helps to keep things organized in your project, as nobody wants to keep track of what 150 reverbs are doing!

Good luck and feel free to comment your questions/opinions/cat pictures below.

About the Author
Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson is the Postgraduate Course Manager at ThinkSpace Education. He holds a Master’s degree in Composition for Screen from the Royal College of Music and is passionate about furthering the careers of ThinkSpace students all over the world.

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