Dry is king… even if reverb is nice.
When you want to create space, you need to use reverb, right? Nope, my friend. Not at all. While many mixing engineers default to adding reverb when it comes to putting some ambience on an element to create a believable (or even unrealistic) environment around a sound source, you don’t actually have to use any of that effect. Sometimes going “bone dry” (that’s not a dry boner there, mate) is the key for a tight sounding mix with a lot of space.
Addicted to the dry sound
When a dry mix turns out good, it can be addictive. It might happen that you will try to go drier and drier, so much so that one day you’ll wake up and realize that it’s become your obsession. It’s kind of like noticing on a sunny day that water is actually a pretty good beverage.
But really, as nice as artificial reverb can be, sometimes it just kills things that we commonly call “punch” and “impact” from the music. Notice that I wrote “artificial reverb” above. It’s because with proper microphone placement and a good sounding room (or barn, or igloo, or bungalow), you can create your own 100% real and true reverb. It might not be as big sounding as a hall, unless you record your shit in a hall. But sometimes a hall would be inappropriate anyway, so don’t worry a bit. Just mic it up nicely and enjoy the ride. You know that I’ll mix it to you anyway.
Let’s check out some classic and some not so classic dry mixes, just to see how the idea works in practice.
Jeff Lynne – king of dryness
One of the big dryness enthusiasts is Jeff Lynne. Unless you are into audio and stuff, it will not even be all that apparent that this man actually rarely if ever uses any reverb. He does use delay and other effects though, including a good amount of “squash” from Urei 1176 compressors, while tracking, mixing and mastering, too.
ELO – “Rock & Roll Is King”
Harvested room sound
Here’s a classic example by Neil Young, off his famous “Harvest” album, tracked at Neil Young’s ranch in California, in a barn, which means it’s barn owl approved. Recorded and mixed by Elliot Mazer. It’s bone dry, except the room sound, of course. The real one.
Neil Young And The Stray Gators – “Alabama”
Richard Dodd knows his dry stuff
Another great dry mixer is Richard Dodd. His Tom Petty mixes have never seen artificial reverb for sure. This in-your-face-ness works great for slower tunes as well.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Into The Great Wide Open”
The Lucksmiths dry up
Finally, here’s a more recent dry track of an indie Australian band called The Lucksmiths, mixed very tastefully by Chris Townend.
The Lucksmiths – “The Town And The Hills”