Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

May 27, 2012

Reverb, Panning and Space

Though I consider myself a neophyte audio engineer, my recent foray into home recording has given me a few new insights. In other words, I'm learning on the fly.

The latest revelation: instead of adding reverb directly to, for example, a vocal track, copy and paste the vocal onto a new track. Set the original aside and apply reverb to the new track only, making it completely "wet"—in other words, all reverb, zero original signal. (When you solo the wet track, don't be surprised if it sounds like a distant voice howling from ten miles inside a cave.) You now have two pieces of flexibility at your disposal, neither of which would be available had you smothered the vocal track directly. First, you can adjust the gain (volume) of the reverb without affecting the original vocal. Second, the reverb can be placed elsewhere in the stereo field; it needn't sit with the dry vocal track.

How does this work in practice? I've just finished a song featuring seven tracks, four of which have reverb applied. The acoustic guitar is panned 70% left, with its reverb over on the other side at 90% right. The lead vocal is panned 20% right; its reverb mirrors that of the acoustic at 90% left. Now, it's often been said that with reverb—or indeed, effects in general—a little goes a long way, and this also pertains to the technique I've outlined above. Hence for the two remaining tracks, backing vocal (20% left) and tambourine (50% right), a touch of reverb was added directly; in other words, I didn't create two more reverb-only tracks, as an overabundance of these can quickly clutter up a mix. But I find that having just the two drenched-in-'verb tracks, panned opposite and away from their dry counterparts, lends a subtle spaciousness to the finished recording.

If you're an auditory type like me, you might want to hear what I'm talking about, at which point it will all make sense. Listen closely to the beginning, which features only guitar, vocal and their respective reverbs ... but do enjoy the rest of the tune as well. (This is my version of "Morningtown Ride," an old lullaby written by Malvina Reynolds.)

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