Question - How much digital reverb do I need on lead vocal and harmony vocal tracks? With AUDIO!

Question - How much digital reverb do I need on lead vocal and harmony vocal tracks? With AUDIO!

An RP visitor asks how much reverb to use, and whether different amounts of reverb are required on lead and background vocal tracks. Why do we need reverb anyway?

by David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Newcomers to recording are often seduced by the 'smoothing' qualities of reverb and add way too much of it. Experienced recording engineers often appear to use no reverb at all. Somewhere in between there must be a happy medium.

But first, consider what the purpose of reverb is. Largely, it is there to compensate for close microphone positioning. If you record an acoustic instrument in a hall with good acoustics, then with the mic in the right position you don't need any artificial reverberation at all.

But the sound of close miking in popular music is very attractive to the ear, so if a little bit of artificial reverb has to be added to compensate for the lack of natural reverberation, that is an easy decision to make.

The wonderful thing about natural reverberation however is that the ear doesn't notice it. Natural reverberation is all around us in everyday life so there is no reason for the ear to be particularly interested in it.

For most purposes, we should aim to do that with artificial reverb too. It should be applied in a way that doesn't draw attention. Yes, like natural reverberation it will be audible if you listen for it. But unless you specifically concentrate your attention on the reverb, it should not be particularly apparent.

So the correct amount of reverb to apply to a lead vocal is just enough to compensate for the lack of natural reverb due to the close microphone position. If you can hear the reverb as a sound element in its own right, you have put on too much.

Of course it would be incorrect to say that this is a 'rule' of recording. There are very few rules in recording that you absolutely have to abide by, and this isn't one of them. But as a guideline it is a good starting point.

Now - background vocals. The usual practice with background vocals is to take steps to place them distinctly in the background, of course, so that the lead vocal can stand out.

You can do this by lowering the level of the background vocals, EQing them so that they don't stand out so much, or you can apply reverb to make them more 'blended' than the lead vocal.

So, often it will be appropriate to add more reverb to the background vocal than to the lead vocal.

Here are some examples of reverb applied to a lead vocal. Of course, it's just my opinion on what is just right or too much, but it should put things in perspective. The singer is Moira Rumveye (with a cold and a Neumann M147 microphone)...

No reverb | Just right | Too much

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass
Monday May 01, 2006

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Readers' comments on this article...

Wayne Hodges, Perth, Australia
Wednesday June 21, 2006

I agree with Phil Johnson and Ian Bell's comments that this style of vocal suits the 'too much reverb' catagory. Also, if you add backing a backing track, the vocal would sound completely dry.

When I mix vocals - I usually start with usual compression, a touch of EQ (depending of the tone of the singers voice - and then I sparingly use delays before trying Reverb - it often gives a better presence without that mushiness. Just my opinion - for what its worth!
Phil Johnson, rochester, UK
Sunday June 18, 2006

If you were to use the vocal with music, any of the reverb settings added here would hardly notice at all. Maybe to a trained engineer, but how many trained engineers buy cd's. Also, if she were singing in say a church or hall with this gospel style, the natural reverb would be more anyway.So sureley in this instance it would make sense to ad a little more.
Mike, Halifax, Canada
Monday June 05, 2006

I use reverb to cover my weak vocals, is there a better way ????

U2 has a couple of albuns that were pretty 'wet' with reverb and they seem to be doing OK and it seems to be pretty prevelent in rock.
max, tampa, USA
Monday June 05, 2006

Could you state the details of the reverb settings you used? I want to try the same settings in soundforge. Thank you.
Ian Bell, Northrepps, UK
Monday May 01, 2006

Obviously opinions will differ on what is the right amount of reverb. Given the naterial of the song, its 'gospel' nature sounds better to me on the too much reverb setting. However, I must say the quality of the reverb used is rather poor; either that or some important subtlety is lost in the mp3 encoding.