Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

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losthighway
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Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by losthighway » Fri Nov 08, 2019 6:56 pm

I've been thinking about this a lot when mixing lately. I've found that on a more adventurous or radical-sound type mix anything goes, one vocal in a cathedral, another bone dry. But the idea I'm musing with more is in a straight-ahead band mix. I wondered what some folks go-to approaches may be:

- Does everyone in the mix get the same reverb (i.e. plugin, or box setting, or spring, same model of a room, hall, or plate etc)?
- Does the lead get mixed dryer to be in front of some wetter backups, or ever visa versa?
- Do you shift decay times and predelay to set these apart?

I've been playing with the psychoacoustic theory that predelay can make the source sound closer because you're hearing the dry sound and then the acoustic space further away, responding after the dry sound your ear hears. It seems to approach the haas effect length of time to always work that way though. In a dense mix and/or with a quieter track it seems to be fairly similar to simply having a longer decay time.

Anyhow, that's me playing with reverb theory. Thoughts?

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by vvv » Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:13 pm

To simplify, I'll use a short small plate on the lead voc, a long big plate on the backing vox.

And I do variations on that theme ...
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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:41 pm

It's all over the place for me. Frequently there's one reverb and the lead gets a pre-delay before hitting that. Sometimes it's different versions of the same reverb with different decay times and eqs.
If the back ups are fairly tight harmonies of the lead I'll sometimes leave them dry, turn them down a little and maybe roll off some highs. This is especially true if the lead is very wet.The wash of reverb on the lead fools the brain into thinking that back ups are in the same space but keeping them dry can keep the mix tidy and makes space for the lead to be huge.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by losthighway » Sun Nov 10, 2019 6:36 am

A.David.MacKinnon wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:41 pm
It's all over the place for me. Frequently there's one reverb and the lead gets a pre-delay before hitting that. Sometimes it's different versions of the same reverb with different decay times and eqs.
If the back ups are fairly tight harmonies of the lead I'll sometimes leave them dry, turn them down a little and maybe roll off some highs. This is especially true if the lead is very wet.The wash of reverb on the lead fools the brain into thinking that back ups are in the same space but keeping them dry can keep the mix tidy and makes space for the lead to be huge.
Nice. Yeah I feel like I hear that contrast on some records I like, this large spacious lead that's nice and loud, and then backups that are right on the edge of the speaker kind of whispering quietly. Definitely can leave more space that way.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by drumsound » Mon Nov 11, 2019 6:55 am

Most times when I use reverb I spend a good amount of time getting the predelay "right." Especially reverb used for vocal. I oft concerned about intelligibility, and that is where spending time with predelay seems to be quite beneficial. I often only have one reverb for all the vocals, but vary the send amounts. It depends on how the BVs interact with the lead, but I tend to favor a bit more reverb on the harmony part(s) and less on the lead.

I've done a ton of mixes with only one reverb, so some instruments may also go to that reverb as well.

I'm mixing an acoustic record done at someone's home studio right now. I've been doing different reverbs for instruments and vocals on this one. I've used Soundtoys Little Plate on most of the vocals (with Echoboy Jr for predelay if needed) mostly in mono, and a stereo reverb for the instruments. The U-he Protoverb that John B reviewed in the magazine is doing some really great things for this. Some mixes the vocal goes to both, less to the stereo and more to the mono.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by vvv » Mon Nov 11, 2019 5:00 pm

drumsound wrote:
Mon Nov 11, 2019 6:55 am
Most times when I use reverb I spend a good amount of time getting the predelay "right." Especially reverb used for vocal.
Lately, I use patches that I created in my DAW that seem to work well together. I typically put a touch of an opto compressor between 4 and 7@1 coming down 3dB, and then go into a small, med, large or cathedral plate. I also have a kinda "Black Dog" slap vocal sound that I use in varying amounts (light to heavy), and that's it. Any chorusing is done by overdubs.

I note this because, once I started doing it, I can save a lot of time getting an acceptable mix. I'm not and will never be RTB, and I seldom mix others' stuff, so I'm interested in getting a collection of my tunes mixed and published, on my way to starting and/or finishing the next one.

I have a couple of global reverb patches I use in the final mixdown that are congruent with the above, so that I can place say, two different sets of plate-verb'd backing vocal pairs a little closer or farther away.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by joninc » Mon Nov 11, 2019 6:18 pm

- Does everyone in the mix get the same reverb (i.e. plugin, or box setting, or spring, same model of a room, hall, or plate etc)?

nope. unless the goal is to have it sound choral and all meshed together as one large ensemble - otherwise treat differently to create contrast and separation

- Does the lead get mixed dryer to be in front of some wetter backups, or ever visa versa?

Sometimes - really depends on the song....

- Do you shift decay times and predelay to set these apart?

I always play with the predelay on any vocal verb....

Lately I like playing with things a bit drier overall and a few well placed reverb moments - emphasizing a certain lyric or pause in the arrangement by having that line get wetter or drier to create some drama.

ps - transatlantic plate is the best plate plugin I've ever used - but i also love valhalla vintage verb and room (plate was just meh to me) and soundtoys little plate too
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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by losthighway » Mon Nov 11, 2019 6:44 pm

Thanks for sharing buddies- the longer I do this, the more interested I am in the minutiae of application, strategy and technique, and the less I'm curious about 'what mic' or 'what pre'.

I'm noticing that I share a preference with a lot of you for plate reverb sounds on vocals. I've really only been using rooms as a 10- 40% wet thing following a delay slap to just kind of diffuse it a little bit. Something about those plate sounds eases into a mix much easier.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by vernier » Tue Nov 26, 2019 1:31 pm

I always want the lead vocal close to the listener, which means dryer. That, and making sure vocal is up in the mix.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by Magnetic Services » Tue Nov 26, 2019 5:08 pm

I'd think about it in terms of what kind of reverb each vocal part needs, rather than "lead" vs "backing".

If the lead part has a lot of words and syllables going on, a shorter reverb will help it from becoming muddy. If the backing vocals are longer "oohs" and "aahs", give 'em a long, lush hall 'verb.

Etc., etc.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by unholyE » Sat Dec 14, 2019 10:22 am

Every session and vocalist is different but...generally I like a subtle plate reverb on the lead vocal and a large cathedral type reverb (often with delay too) on the harmony or backing vocals. I try to group backing vocals when there are more than one or two and buss those with some heavy compression as well.

For drums and most other instruments I generally use room mics for ambiance. Sometimes I will send the snare top to an outboard PCM-70 or plug-in or I'll wash out a synth pad in a multi-tap delay. I'm a fan of hardware delay and reverbs, particularly 80's Ibanez, Yamaha and 90's Lexicon stuff.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by darjama » Sat Dec 14, 2019 3:45 pm

Something I tried recently I liked:
Quiet verse vocals went into a small room reverb
Snare also went into the room reverb
chorus lead vocals and backing vocals went into a plate reverb panned hard left, and a hall reverb panned hard right.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by losthighway » Sat Dec 14, 2019 6:32 pm

darjama wrote:
Sat Dec 14, 2019 3:45 pm
chorus lead vocals and backing vocals went into a plate reverb panned hard left, and a hall reverb panned hard right.
That's pretty crazy.

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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by vvv » Sun Dec 15, 2019 8:41 am

I'd like to hear that.
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Re: Using reverb to differentiate lead and backing vocals

Post by Recycled_Brains » Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:58 am

I may suck at reverb, or maybe I'm just lazy, but I usually hate having a bunch of them on different things. That seems to never sound right to me, unless I'm doing something unorthodox with it for effect. I want it to homogenize things a bit and add some space to the overall picture. What I like to do now, is have my EMT140 (UAD) set up to where I have equal amounts of everything in the mix going to it. Then I slowly bring up that fader until I hear things get uhhhh, more reverb-y, gel'd, bigger.... whatever. From there, I'll automate that channel to make certain parts of songs more or less wet. Sometimes I automate the individual sends to that reverb to add or subtract. The main thing, is having the tone of it and the way it generally affects the mix remain fairly consistent.

Sometimes, I'll do a mono reverb for just the vocal and maybe the snare drum, in addition to the above.

I also use the Valhalla Room. For that one, I'll send varying amounts of stuff to it. Usually lots of snare and toms and little bits of everything else. When it comes to vocals, I definitely will send more backing vocal to this aux to make it sit behind the main a bit or a lot.

I've never thought much about using different reverbs as a device for separation. Delays on the other hand. That's like a constant thing for me.
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