When mixing vocal reverb, you can time the reverb to your BPM, insert an EQ after parallel reverb to get expert control over your reflections, and even distort your reverb for a creative effect. Parallel processing opens up a lot of possibilities when mixing vocal reverb.
Timing your vocal’s reverb to the BPM of your track is pretty easy - simply divide 60000/BPM to find 1 quarter note. Now, where it gets interesting is when we understand that this doesn’t work perfectly for reverb - since the reverb tail often falls below our threshold of perception.
That said, we should increase the length of the reverb slightly, so that the reverb is loud enough to hear right at the end of the note, but then is too quiet right after the full note.
Let’s listen to timed reverb with this compensation added.
When reverberating vocals, pre-delay is a surprisingly important and often overlooked function. It determines when the reverb begins, kind of like the attack of a compressor, meaning we can use it to either preserve our transients at longer settings or reverberate them at shorter ones.
I like to increase mine to about 40ms when working on vocals. Let's listen to the same reverb settings except with and without pre-delay being used.
As you’d imagine, emulating reverb types from the past is incredibly useful for giving the vocal a classic sound. I’ll use Baby Audio’s Crystalline plugin and select the Vox Medium Plate preset which increases pre-delay, uses a 1.5-second decay, increases high-frequency reflections, and utilizes modulation.
Plates are known for having a shimmering high-frequency range which works well on vocals. Let’s take a listen to this plugin and pay attention to the diffused and amplified high frequencies.
If you want to give your vocal character, another great emulation of a classic reverb type is a medium chamber. This gives the vocal a thicker, wider, and denser sound and a slightly more natural one considering the effect mimics a small to moderately sized room.
Let’s listen to it and notice how the character of the vocal changes significantly.
Although many reverbs offer EQ controls if you want expert control of your vocal’s reverb try this. Create a parallel track for your vocal, and on it insert your favorite reverb - then insert a parametric EQ with advanced functionality like M/S, dynamic bands, and maybe left/right placement as well.
Now you have immense control over your vocal reverb’s frequency response, stereo image, and even dynamics if using a dynamic EQ.
Let’s take a listen to what an EQ after reverb can do.
If you want to blend your vocal in with the instrumentation, let’s start with the same setup we did in the last chapter. This time, let’s isolate the reflections to only the mid frequencies, and create a slight boost around 2-3kHz, right before the low-pass filter.
By concentrating the reverb to the mids, we make it harder to perceive, but the vocal still gets blended in with the instrumentals mids.
Let’s listen to it.
Have you ever wanted to make your reverb sound really dense and impressive, but the reverb itself isn’t offering any control over that? If so, you can place a compressor after the reverb on a parallel track, compress, and then amplify with make-up gain.
By doing so we bring quieter details forward and make them easier to perceive - in turn, the reverb sounds a lot more powerful and detailed. Let’s take a listen.
If you want to make your reverb sound more musical, use saturation on a parallel reverb track, similar to how we used compression last chapter. With it, increase low-level detail, but also, add harmonics - these harmonics are multiples of the root note, causing more musical and in-tune reverb.
I’ll use saturate by New-Fangled audio for this, and keep a softer knee to avoid the higher-ordered harmonics that come with a hard knee. Let’s take a listen.
Sometimes tracks sound like there isn’t even any reverb on the vocals - odds are though a super quick reverb is being used to thicken the vocal. To achieve this sound, use a reverb time of about 100ms, increase your pre-delay, and enable brighter reflections if available.
It’s one of those things you can’t notice until you take it off, so let’s listen to the vocal with the effect, and then remove it to better understand how much it adds to the signal.
If you’re looking for a new effect, on that makes a vocal stick out and adds a lot of character, try adding aggressive distortion or saturation after reverb on a parallel send. Since room reflections aren’t distorted, this creates an entirely unnatural, but enjoyable sound.
Since the harmonics are so strong as well, this is going to almost make the reverb sound like an instrument, so let’s listen and consider how this effect can be used creatively to augment a mix.