HomeBlogsbillhare's blogD.I.Y. Tip – Reverb & Delay

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I’ve noticed lately that I am getting a lot of sessions from people who have been using reverb and delay in their tracking to get a little more inspiration and space under the headphones.  This is great, but looking at how they are doing it, I see most are unaware of a basic track management technique – sends and auxiliary effects channels.


Reverb and Delay are additive processes (meaning mixing a little of it in with the dry sound completes the effect), while things like EQ and compression are usually meant to shape the whole sound, thus are strapped inline with the track (i.e. inserted).

I recently received a session to mix and found that reverbs and delays were inserted onto every channel.  The clients also mentioned that their computer kept crashing during the session (most likely from the strain of so many plug-ins).

So, this is where we talk about the difference between an “insert” and a “send”.  Even in sessions where tracks number over a hundred, I still tend to use only one or two reverb plug-in instances total in a session.  The same goes for delay and other “additives” such as chorusing, flanging, crystallizers, phasers, etc.

Back in the day, recording studios generally had one reverb “chamber”, a reflective room with a speaker and a microphone where they would feed signals in through the speaker and catch the (now very “wet”) sound with the mic and add it to the mix. Just a little bit will do ya, alongside the dry sound.  

Having everything meld together in that chamber kept things a bit more cohesive sonically.  Having a different reverb on each channel (or even the same reverb type, but each its own “island”) results in not only an indefinable single space, it hogs resources on your computer, and you have to take time to set up each and every one in terms of wet/dry ratio etc.

The better way to do it is to set up “sends” for each of your channels – in most programs this can be done globally across all channels, or better yet, be templated so that when you create a new track that send is already there.  Think of it as a water valve where you can hook the other end of the pipe wherever you want.  Turning the handle sends any amount of water (sound) to the desired destination (the reverb or delay aux track). Every DAW (ProTools, Logic, Sonor, etc) can do this, but each might do it differently – you’ll need to consult your manual if it’s not clear from just looking at your screen.

Create a new aux channel, and put your reverb on that.  Make sure to set the “mix” of your reverb plug-in to 100%, since we are just using the additive part and the dry signal will be coming from the main tracks, there is no reason to pass any of the dry signal through the aux channel.  This will make more sense after you actually do it, so don’t worry if this isn’t making sense yet. 

So now you have your “destination”, all you need is the “pipe” to take the signals where you want them.  These are called “busses” in most systems.  The input of your aux (reverb or delay channel) should be set to one of these busses (lets say stereo bus 1&2).  You should have a “sends” section on each of your channels, and you should create a send on each channel you might want reverb on that goes to stereo bus 1&2 also.  As you get more familiar with this, you should probably make preset channels that have your most used busses on them.  For example, I always have my reverb on bus 1&2, so my preset channels already have a send going there, as does my preset reverb channel, with its input of bus 1&2 ready to go as soon as I create the channel, even if I don’t end up using it.

So let’s say that your lead vocal needs a bit of reverb – bring up the send level on their track, it will travel through the “pipe” down to the reverb aux channel, get “wet”, and come out the output of the aux channel, alongside the dry lead vocal.  You can control just how wet the vocal is by turning up or down the send (which can also be automated, by the way – verses drier, choruses wetter, etc).  This same process goes for any other channels that need reverb - turn up or down the sends on their individual tracks to taste, still using the one channel of reverb for everything. 

Your computer’s processor will thank you, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll save time as well!

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