Tips & Techniques: Multi-track and Reverb - "Cleaner Decay"

by Jerry Vigil

If you plan to have reverb on the voice track of your final product, and you record the voice track to 2-track first, before going to multi-track, you have 3 options for adding reverb. 1) You can add reverb to the voice as you are recording it to 2-track, 2) You can add the reverb as you go from the 2-track to multi-track, or 3) you can add the reverb on the final mix.

The first method may seem like the easiest because you don't have to mess with reverb on the track later, but there are disadvantages: If you put too much reverb on the voice, you can't take it away without cutting the voice track again. Also, the decay has now become a part of the voice track, and the tape hiss is there with the decay. By the time you get to cart with the spot, the decay is 4th generation, which means a lot of tape hiss is mixed with the decay.

The last method, adding reverb on the mix, is the best, but you may be limited here depending upon your studio setup. Say you have 2 tracks with voices that need reverb, as well as a 3rd track with sound effects you wish to add reverb to. Using your effects sends and receives, if you have them, you can add the appropriate amount of reverb to each track on the mix, and the decay will only be second generation on the cart. But suppose you wanted a longer decay on one voice track than on the other. You would then need 2 reverb units. Also, if you don't have effects sends and receives, you won't be able to do this anyway.

The second method, adding reverb as you go to multi-track, will be the best method for most adequately equipped multi-track studios. Record the voice track on 2-track without reverb, then patch in your reverb unit when you are ready to put the voice to multi-track. Set your reverb mix level and decay time to the desired settings. Now, when laying the voice track to multi-track, keep your finger on the stop button of the 2-track.

The moment the announcer has finished his last word, shut the 2-track off. This eliminates any more tape hiss from making it to the multi-track, and the reverb will decay with a much cleaner signal.

This method assumes you have taken the 2-track and patched it into the reverb unit. If instead, you patch the group output or the buss you are using for the 2-track, into your reverb unit, you won't have to shut the 2-track off at the end of the voice track. Simply kill the fader that you have the 2-track on. Since the reverb is on the group output and not the fader, the reverb will continue to decay naturally, even after you've shut the 2-track fader off.
While all this may seem like nit-picking to some, it is a good technique to employ. By the time you've added several other tracks to your mix and added compression as well, the amount of tape hiss and other noise can become extremely apparent.

The same technique is even more helpful when using effects that have a longer decay time. Let's say the words of your voice track are "number one", and you want them to repeat and fade out (number one, number one...). Instead of reverb, use about a 1 second delay on the voice track, and add a good amount of feedback. After the announcer on the 2-track says "number one", stop the 2-track. Let the delay and feedback decay without the added signal of tape hiss from the 2-track being added to the feedback. Try it both ways to hear the difference for yourself.

There are many ways to clean up the final mix of a spot or promo being built on multi-track. Proper level control and creative EQ-ing are a couple. We'll take a look at them all in future issues.