5 Pro Tips For Using Reverb In A Scoring Context

Using reverb when scoring

Exponential Audio user Tom Player is a British composer whose work can be seen on screens all over the world. Frequently composing for adverts, film trailers and for fun.

Working primarily in music to picture, Tom is best known for his work including The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, Ikea, The Sunday Times ‘Icons’ (“Elaina’s Theme”) and more. He has worked with award winning Hollywood composers such as Hans Zimmer, Ramin Djawadi & Lorne Balfe, and continues to collaborate with established, and upcoming, producers and artists.

In this article he shares some free tips for using reverbs in scoring.

Understand The Personalities Of Your Reverbs

All reverbs have personalities. Cheaper digital reverbs tend to have a metallic, ringy tail. Expensive reverbs have a beautiful clarity that continues right until the signal dies. Special effect reverbs can be completely immersive and enrich the source material incredibly, but may not do a convincing job of creating a virtual space. Even more options for springs, plates, chambers and convolved spaces.

By mixing these different personalities together, you can have a lot of control over the tonal and temporal aspects of your mix, more so than simply using EQ and compression.

R2 and Phoenix share a family sound, but have unique qualities – R2 is a great highlighter for lusher sounds – the chorus and gating effect can really wrap the source sound in a warm blanket, and Phoenixverb is a great for realistic, mix friendly reverb that creates a convincing acoustic space. Both have the option of plate, chamber and room models.

Reverb Should Be 'Invisible', or 'Featured' – But Nowhere In Between

Invisible reverb, you ask? What's the point of that! Well, often in scoring and orchestral work, you'll often have recorded sound that presents problems with regards to the mix. Here's a great time to use reverb as a problem solver.

If you've recorded an orchestra in a small room with acoustic problems, often there will be a shorter reverb than desired, and there might be some low-mid congestion. With judicious use of a reverb like Phoenixverb, you can tailor a nice sounding reverb, which will 'fill in the gaps' missing from the source. Try dialling down the early reflections (to avoid more congestion) and find a tail size that works. Once you've got a reverb that's fixing the problems, it should be indistinguishable from the original source, and perform a subtle enhancement

For 'featured' reverb, you have permission to completely reshape the sound – mix with 100% wet verb, use the early reflections only, use the gate and chorus of R2 for a really unique and ear popping production trick. A whole decade of 80's snare sounds were created from this very effect!

Once you get inside the the R2 and Phoenixverb plugins, there's a breath of effects, and detailed shaping tools, you can have a lot of fun

Don't Be Afraid To Layer Reverbs

One of my favourite features of plugins in general, unlike hardware, is that once you've bought one – the second, third and fourth (and so on) copies are free! So why not use them creatively. Layer up your reverbs to create a special effect, something distant and otherworldly.

I love to create these distant effects on sustained pad sounds and musical elements that don't change. Set up an arpeggiated synth, run it through five long reverbs and voila – instant pad sounds.

I'd like to see you do that same trick with five EMT plates...!

Pay Attention To The Presets / Use the 'Spot' And 'Main' Presets

A lot of attention and fine balancing has gone into crafting the reverb presets on R2 and Phoenix, so it's important to give them a shot on the correct material.

They are optimised for usage on certain instruments – note the 'spot' mics and 'main' suffixes.

The spot mics (which won't have much in terms of early reflections in the recording) will do a convincing job of putting the instrument in a physical place, following up with the tail for the context of the room.

The main mics (which will already have a sense of location and space in the recording) will focus more on enhancing the space around the main mics, to match that of the spots. Use the reverbs in pairs for the best effect

Less Is More

Often repeated but worth repeating again!

After all these reverb tips, it's easy to get over excited and drown your entire mix in too much reverb, because the ear quickly adjusts to decode the space as you work.

Eventually, you'll have to decide between slowing the tempo right down as you add more reverb, or risk losing information in the 'mush'. So:

Err on the side of caution when using reverb, and let clarity come through. Take a break, rest your ears, and come back to make a snap judgement. If it sounds right within the first few seconds, you've struck the right balance and the ear finds the space believable.

More on Tom Player here