The too much reverb disease

Have you ever ended up adding too much reverb to your music? Like, way too much? I have, too. It’s said to be one of those beginner’s obstacles. Once you get over it, you’ll be on the right path. It just doesn’t happen all that quickly for most of us, mere mortals. You of course have to listen to some existing music, preferably the kind you want to imitate, to get the sound of all those different approaches in your head. But you also have to know what to listen for. The latter is something that not many books or online courses discuss, or even mention. So why do we make the mistake of adding too much reverb? Let’s see.

Reverb: sugar for the mind

First of all, reverb tends to sound awesome. And I mean awesome in a very obvious and not at all subtle way. It’s pleasant to hear your tracks dressed up in that lush ambience. We know our recording places and sound sources all too well. Instruments we practice with, usually at the same place. Especially our voice and the unflattering way it sounds when listening back to it completely dry. All those analytical, self-criticizing thoughts arise. too much reverbWith reverb, we can cover it up to some extent, while adding a surprise element to it at the same time. We simply surprise ourselves with adding something to the sound that we don’t hear that often. It’s like buying chocolate to yourself. That’s usually why people fall for it, and add a lot of reverb, at least at first.

The solution

Looking at reverb the following way will get you to the core of the problem, and you’ll be able to judge the amount you need better. Now think about it; there’s always a gap between two musical tones. It’s either the sound of their own decay, some other instrument, a kind of noise, or – rarely – complete silence. Knowing that, the solution is easy. Try to look at reverb as something to fill the gaps with. Simple as that. You’ll be able to focus on the gaps better as well. That way, you are forced to add only as much as needed, just by listening to the ever changing contrast of what the louder and quieter parts do. Then simply control it with reverb. You’ll see that reverb is really just a jolly joker instrument, with its own variables.

Comments (2)

  • neuroxik

    I read this yesterday, and I thought “damn, I was thinking about the SAME thing yesterday (Feb 3rd, when you published this post) while mentally reviewing some methods”. I was even going to draw a small chart with a timeline of how long someone’s been mixing and the amount of reverb decreasing overtime.

    I find the same phenomenon with plenty other stuff. When I discovered applying chorus to vocals, hell, I can trace back my beginnings just by listening to old tracks I’ve abused Chorus on. Same thing applies to effects pedals for guitar. If I had new effects pedal, I’d find any excuse to plug them everywhere. Now, even for hard rock / alt. rock tracks, I even tend to use the amps natural breakage of tube for distortion using gain instead of a white noise overly distorted pedal.

    • Roland Czili

      I hear ya! I’m pretty sure this is the thing that’s happened to engineers/producers in the 60s when plates were new. That music was swimming in reverb. And of course it’s occurred again in the 80s, with the brand new digital units.

      Seems to be a periodical thing, both in music history, and personal approach (at least mine). At first I want to treat everything with it in a well audible way, then I get sick of the sound, then it returns in just the right amount.

      This whole thing reminds me of the old Zen wisdom:

      “Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters;
      after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer
      mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment,
      mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

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