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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The 6 Rules For Adding Effects To A Mix

Room Reflections from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Having trouble figuring how to use your effects during mixing? Here are a set of rules that can help you choose the best effects for each track more efficiently, courtesy of The Mixing Engineer's Handbook.

Rule 1 - As A General Rule Of Thumb, Try To Picture The Performer In An Acoustic Space And Then Realistically Recreate That Space Around Them.
This method usually saves some time over simply experimenting with different effects presets until something excites you (although that method can work too). Also, the created acoustic space needn’t be a natural one. In fact, as long as it fits the music, the more creative the better.  

Rule 2 - Smaller Reverbs Or Short Delays Make Things Sound Bigger.
Reverbs with decays under a second (and usually much shorter than that) and delays under 100 milliseconds (again usually a lot shorter than that) tend to make the track sound bigger rather than push it back in the mix, especially if the reverb or delay is stereo.

Rule 3 - Long Delays, Reverb Predelays, Or Reverb Decay Push A Sound Farther Away If The Level Of The Effect Is Loud Enough.
As stated before, delays and predelays (see below) longer than 100 ms (although 250 is where it really kicks in) are distinctly heard and begin to push the sound away from the listener. The trick between something sounding big or just distant is the level of the effect. When the decay or delay is short and the level loud, the track sounds big. When the decay or delay is long and loud, the track just sounds far away. 

Rule 4 -  If Delays Are Timed To The Tempo Of The Track, They Add Depth Without Being Noticeable.
Most engineers set the delay time to the tempo of the track (see below on how to do this). This makes the delay pulse with the music and adds a reverb type of environment to the sound. It also makes the delay seem to disappear as a discrete repeat but still adds a smoothing quality to the element.

If you want to easily find the right delay time to the track and you have an iPhone, grab my "Delay Genie" app from the iTunes App Store. It's free and will making timing your effects to the track incredibly easy.

Rule 5 - If Delays Are Not Timed To The Tempo Of The Track, They Stick Out.
Sometimes you want to distinctly hear a delay and the best way to do that is to make sure that the delay is NOT exactly timed to the track. Start by first putting the delay in time with the track, then slowly alter the timing until the desired effect is achieved.

Rule 6 - Reverbs Sound Smoother When Timed To The Tempo Of The Track.
Reverbs are timed to the track by triggering them off of a snare hit and adjusting the decay parameter so that the decay just dies by the next snare hit. The idea is to make the decay “breathe” with the track. The best way to achieve this is to make everything as big as possible at the shortest setting first, then gradually get longer until it’s in time with the track.

Of course, the biggest part of adding effects to a mix is experience, but following these rules will provide a perfect place to start.

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Anonymous said...

More info about timing reverbs would be very much appreciated! Most folks know about timing delays but this is different territory-would love to know more. All the best-

Bobby Owsinski said...

Good idea. I'll post that soon. In the meantime, the easiest way to time effects is to get my Delay Genie iPhone app (it's free).

NatJag said...

Great post, I'm also for more on timing verbs. I use the delay genie for pre delays already. Does the timing with the snares work on vocals or drums. I'm trying to get the abbey road early 60's reverb, which I'm guessing they just used their ears for back then. As it was either a chamber or the plate (EMT140).

BTW, got your book on T-racks, great to have all that info in one place.

Bobby Owsinski said...

Yes, Nathan, the reverb decay timing works on all vocals or instruments, but you should tweak as necessary.

The Abbey Road reverbs were filtered at 10k and 600, then predelayed (or not) with a tape delay usually set to 15ips. Hard to say what that delay time was because it depends on the tape machine used, but sometimes they timed it to the track by ear by using a varispeed on the machine.


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