Adding reverb to your drums, although sometimes subtle, can bring out the depth that you’re looking for when you’re mixing your track. Adding some reverb brings colour and energy to your drum tracks especially if you are recording drums in a small room.
Drums without reverb can substantially lack presence and feel lifeless and dry.
Although reverb is a vital element to a great sounding drum track, using reverb incorrectly can leave your mix sounding muddy and unpleasant.
Reverb is simply thousands of repetitions of a sound, creating a smooth echo type of effect without the pause between sound and echo.
How To Apply Reverb To Your Drum Bus When Mixing
Send all of your drum channels to a drum bus for easier mixing, then create an auxiliary send channel from your drum bus to control the amount of signal you send to your reverb.
Definition of reverb terms
When working with reverb, there are various types of reverb that you can work with. Here are a few reverb terms worth understanding.
Hall reverb is designed to simulate the reverb in concert halls, which are designed for great sound and reverberation.
The sound created from adding hall reverb electronically can vary, but for the most part, due to the large size of most halls it creates a very long reverb and, when used correctly, adds a lot of depth.
Make sure to use hall reverb sparingly on drums. Too much of this powerful reverb type can easily overwhelm other instruments and muddy up the track.
Room reverb, in simple terms, is reverb that is created in a smaller room, or reverb that is added to give drums the impression that they were recorded in a room giving them an authentic feel.
Reverb created in a normal room is mostly shorter in length, generally as short as one second long, and can be extended in length to create the sound of a larger room.
Special chambers were once built with the intention of creating many sound reflections within the chambers, the reverb created is called chamber reverb.
You can now add chamber reverb digitally, just like you can with the other reverb types.
Chamber reverb is not as commonly used as many other reverb types, however, it can bring a lot of color to your mix if you are going for a more unique sound.
This type of reverb is more commonly used for instruments like guitars and not drums. Many older guitar amps had a spring reverb chamber built in. It can create a metallic bouncy reverb sound.
Spring reverb is created using a spring chamber with one or more tightly wound metal springs for the sound to travel through.
As the sound travels down the spring and out of the end, the springs vibrate – creating the illusion of an echo – giving the impression of the audio reverberating in a room.
Before software could create the different types of reverb used in today’s music, plate reverb was created by sending playing audio through a speaker next to a massive metal sheet or “plate” which vibrates the sound to emulate room reverb.
The sound of plate reverb is an unnatural version of room reverb. It can liven up a sound in the mix quite well and is used to brighten up a track.
Plate reverb does not sound real to the human ear. You can use this to your advantage to add some surrealism to your music.
In normal terms, non-linear describes something that is different from straight, or linear. With reverb, it is the same and is used to describe reverb where the decay is artificially manipulated.
For example, the tail of the reverb builds up and then suddenly decays. Non-linear reverb is often used on drums and is responsible for that easily recognizable 80’s sound.
The 80’s sound is not a guarantee and is achieved by using a lot of non-linear reverb. If this isn’t what you’re going for you can still experiment with it to get the sound you are envisioning.
Auxiliary Sends and Returns
Aux sends and returns are what is used to signal route a signal to separate audio tracks.
Aux channels are often known as effects channels and are simply there for routing tracks to, they do not have any sounds of their own.
The send is where you control how much of the routed original track is sent through to the aux channel for processing.
The return is generally controlled on the aux bus and is used as a fader to control the amplitude of the processed sound once it has gone through the aux bus.
Mix buses are channels where your sounds are routed through and processed separately as needed. Each bus has its own fader where you can control the amplitude separately.
An example of a mix bus is your master bus, which is the bus where each separate track is ultimately routed through and where you can control the amplitude of the entire song.
Applying Reverb to Drums in the mix
Reverb is a valuable tool in mixing to bring out often much-needed life and color to your mix. Let’s discuss how you can successfully apply reverb to your mix and get the result you’re hoping for.
Applying reverb correctly can help avoid leaving your track either empty with too little reverb or muddy with too much.
1. Create a drum bus
Start by creating a Drum Bus. You do this by routing all your drum tracks to one bus for easier mixing.
You want to route only the drums with skins on them to this bus as their sounds are all created in the same way and will be easier to mix and make sound good. Leave out the cymbals from the Drum Bus.
2. Create an Overhead bus
Now that you have a Drum Bus, you need to create a bus for your cymbal mics, overheads, and room mics to route through.
Route all of these tracks to one bus and call it your Overhead Bus. You want to do this because the settings that you use on this bus are going to be different than the ones you use on your Drum Bus.
3. Create a Reverb Auxiliary channel
To start adding reverb to your mix, create a reverb auxiliary channel to route your drum bus to.
Most DAWs have built-in aux send channels you can create. To create an aux channel in Ableton for example, open “File” in the dropdown menu and select “aux send” when prompted for what type of track you are wanting to create.
4. Apply a Reverb to the new Auxiliary channel
Now that you have an auxiliary channel created, you want to apply reverb to it so that you can add reverb to the drum bus routed to it
5. Set Your levels for each drum bus
With your reverb aux channel created and your drum bus routed to it, you can now set your levels using the fader on the aux bus. Set your levels for each of your drum buses.
If you only want to add a little bit of reverb on individual drum tracks, for example, your kick and snare drums, you can create an individual auxiliary send from each track.
6. Select the Reverb type
As covered earlier in the article, there are quite a few different types of reverbs that you can choose from, all having their own unique effects and sound.
Choose which reverb is going to sound best in your mix for the result you’re looking to achieve and the type of music you are working on.
7. Set your room size
You’ve now selected the reverb type that works in your mix, now you can set your simulated room size for the reverb.
You can set your room size to be bigger or smaller. A larger room size creates a longer decay and a wider stereo feel, where a smaller room creates a shorter decay and a more narrow stereo feel.
8. Set the early reflections
Setting the early reflections properly is going to help place your listener more in the middle of your “room” and help your sound feel more authentic.
The early reflections are the very first echoes of sound that hit the early reflection points of a room and happen so soon after the sound is played that they sound almost part of the original sound itself.
Drums benefit from fewer early reflections to place the listener in the center of the room. Be careful not to turn them down too much to avoid this part of the reverb becoming masked by the decay.
9. Set Pre-delay
Set the pre-delay to give your sound the feeling of being in a larger area. Big rooms tend to have more natural pre-delay.
Pre-delay is the time that a sound takes before reaching its first reflection point. Adding pre-delay is important to help your reverb stay clear of your original signal to keep it clean and lower the risks of muddying your track.
10. Set Decay time
Decay time is the measure of how long it takes for the reverb to dissipate to zero after the signal is played through.
Setting your reverb to have a longer decay sounds great on a single track but can quickly become muddy when all the tracks are played together.
Find a good balance between the reverb of your drum track and the rest of your mix. Generally, your delay time should match the size of your room.
11. Add diffusion and damping
A great way to thicken your drums in your mix is to up the diffusion. Increasing diffusion pushes the early reflections closer together and decreasing it pulls them further apart.
Using lower diffusion typically works well for clear sounding vocals and instruments, but that might not be your goal when you’re mixing percussion instruments.
If it is possible to add damping to your reverb, add more if your track is sounding sharp or artificial on the high-end and less if you need to add clarity to your mix.
Damping simulates softer obstructions in the room for high-frequencies to absorb into and can beautifully warm up a track to make it sound less mechanical.
12. Set your mix output levels
Before you can move on to mastering your track you need to set your mix output levels. The output level must not exceed 0 dB to avoid distortion and clipping of your track.
If your levels are too low or too high and are clipping, you are going to have a hard time correcting this mistake in the mastering phase.
13. Listen back to your mix and make adjustments
Once you have applied all the steps to creating great reverb on your drums and your output levels are looking healthy, listen back to your overall mix.
Make adjustments to the send bus or each individual track until your track starts to sound natural if it doesn’t already. Continue to adjust your tracks until you are happy with how good your drums are sounding.
Applying reverb to your drums can either make or break your song. The fate of your song lies in your technique when applying the reverb and how much you choose to finesse each step of the application.
Take your time and make sure to listen to your drum track with the rest of the song as you go along to make sure your reverb isn’t contributing to muddiness.
If you add reverb and your song is only sounding worse, backtrack your steps and find where you went wrong – usually less is more, so try dialling back the wet signal on your reverb channel. Don’t give up, you’ve got this!
More Drum mixing questions?
Read more about how to do a great drum mix!