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Tutorial: Using Reverb and Panning to Create Spaces

Reverb can be a great tool for adding depth to a particular piece of music. It can also ruin a piece with too much of it. Today, I'm going to teach you guys a pretty cool trick for using reverb to create a simple virtual 'environment' effect based off of panning and thoughtful planning.

Here are some audio samples of what the finished product will sound like:

 

 

Starting Out:

To begin, let's just say that I'm going to compose a particular piece using the following instruments: Drums, bass, piano, violin, and flute. To create this effect, it's extremely helpful to create a layout sketch of where each instrument physically is in this virtual room, so for the purposes of this tutorial, here is my sketch:

reverb_tutorial_placement_sketch.jpg

Try to be careful, you want to position things based off of how much they actually play as to utilize the fullest sound possible. This takes a bit of practice.

Now that we have our sketch, let's take a minute to think (basically) about how sound travels. When sound leaves an instrument, speaker, or whatever the case may be, it reflects off of everything that crosses its path, right? Remember that; It helps to understand why this effect works the way it does.


Setting Up Our Instruments and Sends:

Okay, so we have our sketch and our general observation of sound. Let's start setting up these instrument tracks. For each instrument, set up a separate reverb send track similar to what I have going on in the image below. Also, create a master/ room reverb send that all instruments are also sent to (Just one for the entire composition). It's important to note that I generally have all reverb settings the same for each send, as to make everything cohesive; They are in the same 'room' after all, right? For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm just actually using the 'Small Hall' preset on my 'Classic Reverb' VST.

*Tracks beginning with an underscore (_) are the reverb sends to their respective instrument.

Panning:

Now, each instrument should have a total of two reverb sends that they are sent to: Their own, and the master or room reverb. The next step is to start panning everything (the instruments as well as our sends) based off of your sketch, which is pretty self-explanatory. Here's where the effect really begins to shape up. Pan each of the reverb sends (excluding the room reverb, which should stay center) directly opposite to each parent instrument; For example, if the flute is 45% left, the flute's reverb send would be 45%, right? Continue to do so for each instrument.

Why did we do this? Well, we did this because of the whole reflection thing we talked about, duh! Here's what mine looks like so far:

 

Volume Adjustment:

Finally, the last step we have is to simply adjust the volumes of the reverb sends. The neat thing about this effect is that all you really have to do to change how much reverb you have on each instrument is to just change the volume of the send for that particular instrument. I can't teach you through a blog article what the correct volumes are. All I can say for sure is that I've noticed that I generally have the room reverb significantly lower than the instrument sends, which themselves are lower in volume than the actual instruments sending to them. Just be smart with it, if something is farther back in the room, it's probably going to have more reverb than something that is super close to the listener.

If you guys want to take this effect even further, there are a few other things you can do.

  • Things that are farther back in the room tend to have more low end because bass travels much farther than high frequencies. On the flip side, things that are closer to the listener will have less reverb and more high end. EQ those instruments to fit!
  • Create stereo reverb sends by adjusting the predelay on multiple reverb sends. This works best for solo, centered instruments. Just send it to two reverb sends instead of one, panned in both, opposite directions. On one of the sends, increase the predelay a bit (30ms-ish) to create a similar effect as the brain uses to process location with very fine changes in sound.
  • Just be creative with it!