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Live reverb - best practices?


John Yaya

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I'm reviewing some audience-perspective video of recent gigs, and boy, do my keyboards sound naked. Like the audio equivalent of catching a glimpse of yourself under that harsh department store lighting...yikes! Everything sounds fine in the practice room, but it's not blending well through the PA. I'm wondering if there's a standard practice on warming up keys with reverb in live situations. When programming patches for cover tunes, I generally try to match the type and size of verb to what I can hear on the recordings. Unfortunately, I rarely have the luxury of sending stereo signals to FOH, so I guess that's wasted effort.
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I would add reverb to make the keys sit right with the live sound being produced, not try to duplicate what's on a recording. I dedicate a knob on my midi controller to control wetness (it simultaneously adjusts reverb time and dry/wet ratio), and will vary it mostly depending on what my ears are telling me. Most of the time I'll boost it during quieter songs, ballads where the overall "density" of notes is lower, and lower it during faster, louder or more note-dense songs where a longer & wetter reverb would just muddy things. BUT... if you can't hear reverb in stereo I'm not sure it's worth the effort. It wouldn't be in my case, at least.
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SOP is little or no reverb sent, let the man at the board take care of that to match the room. Who is running sound? Post a clip?

Hammond: L111, M100, M3, BC, CV, Franken CV, A100, D152, C3, B3

Leslie: 710, 760, 51C, 147, 145, 122, 22H, 31H

Yamaha: CP4, DGX-620, DX7II-FD-E!, PF85, DX9

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Wes nailed it. Reverb is a tough thing to nail down in a live room unless your in the audience. Each room and different and then different tones from your keys will interact with the space differently. Depending on the room, you may not need much or any.

 

The FOH guy needs to make the mix have "space" without sounding muddy-- do you generally have someone good at the board?

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I would agree that if you have a sound person, they should be able to put some verb on the keys to match the venue if they sound too dry. Flip side, they may not think dry keys are a problem!

 

I also agree that I wouldn't try to match the recordings. The band isn't playing in a space that is the same as the "recording space" (whatever the producer was aiming for...dry, wet, vintage whatever...) so it's not a realistic goal. Whatever comes out of the PA speakers is going to then be changed by the room you are playing. Or, in the case of an outdoor gig, the lack of a room!

 

I tend to leave the patch verb alone on my pc361 for most tunes--it isn't really heavy--and turn it down on certain tunes where I need something to cut through a bit. Certain gigs I will turn it down for everything: wood floor/walls etc where the room is really live. We run sound from stage and we all know to do this for certain places. Outdoor shows are the only places I can think of that instruments may end up being too dry, most clubs and rooms will have some ambient sound.

 

I'd also make sure the recordings aren't skewing things. I know it doesn't make much logical sense but when I record using a video camera or my zoom H2 from FOH it sounds pretty dry and lifeless...I presume some of the space and subtlety gets lost in the recording, maybe it's my imagination, not sure.

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I use a Zoom H1 to record gigs. It does better job with audio than any consumer camera but there is lot missing. My take is that the loudest sounds at each pitch are recorded and much of the lower volume ambience goes missing.

 

I notice this when the bass and kick are a similar frequency, the bass note seems to drop out. Guess that is why everybody gets mic'd separately for a pro recording.

 

FWIW I keep keys dry, let the room add the reverb.

A misguided plumber attempting to entertain | MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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In general I go dryer on up-tempo tunes where my play is rhythmic, and bring the reverb in on the ballads where keys are more exposed and there's more space. Reverb/delay sounds nice on the synth leads. If you keyboard allows assigning reverb amount or time on a fader or knob, it's easy to bring it in or out when appropriate. Otherwise, I store it with the patch for the song or song type.

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In general I go dryer on up-tempo tunes where my play is rhythmic, and bring the reverb in on the ballads where keys are more exposed and there's more space.

 

This.

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Markay, you have automatic gain control or compression or something turned on on your H1. Get rid of it. Also turn off the low cut.

 

Wes

Hammond: L111, M100, M3, BC, CV, Franken CV, A100, D152, C3, B3

Leslie: 710, 760, 51C, 147, 145, 122, 22H, 31H

Yamaha: CP4, DGX-620, DX7II-FD-E!, PF85, DX9

Roland: VR-09, RD-800

 

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Guess I need to let the sound guys do the heavy lifting on this. Some bands I play with run sound from the stage, and sound-check consists of 5 minutes of line testing and then we're off to the races. Since they're only hearing my boards in mono, I don't think they realize what it's supposed to sound like. Better get proactive and open up some discussions...prior planning prevents something or other.
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If you're in a room, you already have reverb.

 

Piano samples need none. If you find yourself wanting to soften the edges during a ballad, try a short delay instead. Ditto EP.

 

These sounds are already complex, and will interact with whatever room you're playing in in the exact manner that reverb mimics. There is barely an amount of reverb that will not sound like too much, live, IMO.

 

Synth sounds are often simple, with fewer partials. There is barely an amount of reverb that will sound like too much, live. These sounds offer very little innate phase or time differentials, so anything you add after the fact, only serves to make them sound bigger and more complex.

 

Organ: toss-up. Organ is sometimes sine-tone unities, sometimes partials. In this case, use reverb to evoke the track, not to sweeten the patch.

 

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Markay, you have automatic gain control or compression or something turned on on your H1. Get rid of it. Also turn off the low cut.

 

Wes

Good suggestions Wes, given my comments but low cut has never been on and I tried 'auto level' once when I first got it but there was too much pumping in the recorded signal for my liking so it has been 'off' since then.

 

I know from having recorded rehearsals in an acoustically treated recording studio and later compared them with what I could recall hearing in the room they sounded much 'drier'.

 

The Zoom has an amazing ability to record high dBL's without distortion, and if I lost it I would buy it again, but I figure there is a limit to what single point devices can capture.

A misguided plumber attempting to entertain | MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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If you're in a room, you already have reverb.

 

Piano samples need none. If you find yourself wanting to soften the edges during a ballad, try a short delay instead. Ditto EP.

 

These sounds are already complex, and will interact with whatever room you're playing in in the exact manner that reverb mimics. There is barely an amount of reverb that will not sound like too much, live, IMO.

 

Synth sounds are often simple, with fewer partials. There is barely an amount of reverb that will sound like too much, live. These sounds offer very little innate phase or time differentials, so anything you add after the fact, only serves to make them sound bigger and more complex.

 

Organ: toss-up. Organ is sometimes sine-tone unities, sometimes partials. In this case, use reverb to evoke the track, not to sweeten the patch.

 

All opinions offered without any warranty expressed or implied.

+1

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I'm reviewing some audience-perspective video of recent gigs, and boy, do my keyboards sound naked.

 

This is curious. Whenever I've listened to cell phone videos or recordings done more professionally at the board, the natural ambience of the room is doing just the opposite.

 

For years I've run everything dry (except for a bit of delay on pads) - not because that's what sounded best through my monitor, but what sounded best out front. But just in the last few years I will sometimes add just a touch of reverb on the piano - mostly during quiet moments. Advances in reverb on my boards and compression driver technology in newer FOH systems pick up the detail and sparkle without any of the issues of the past.

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Keyboards from my early 80's setup that sounded great.

Fender Rhodes (no built in effects)

Hammond (no built in effects other than the Leslie)

Arp Omni 2 (no built in effects)

MiniMoog (no built in effects)

Rhodes Chroma (no built in effects)

MemoryMoog (no built in effects)

 

I used a rack mount delay, and the Rhodes had tremolo. Reverb came from the main board.

 

Now most every keyboard I have includes built in effects. Patches full of reverb and echo. Same with guitar pedal boards and electronic drum kits. If everyone on stage uses their own reverb and effects you end up with mud. It also messes with the continuity of the sound. When you are in the studio it is very important to make everyone sound like they are in the same room. This means applying the same reverb to everyone, to varying degrees. It should be the same goal on stage. If the keyboardist is using a hall setting, the guitarist is using plate, and the drummer wants his V-Drum kit to sound like it is in a coliseum, the audience is left with mud.

 

This post edited for speling.

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I'm reviewing some audience-perspective video of recent gigs, and boy, do my keyboards sound naked. Like the audio equivalent of catching a glimpse of yourself under that harsh department store lighting...yikes! Everything sounds fine in the practice room, but it's not blending well through the PA. I'm wondering if there's a standard practice on warming up keys with reverb in live situations. When programming patches for cover tunes, I generally try to match the type and size of verb to what I can hear on the recordings. Unfortunately, I rarely have the luxury of sending stereo signals to FOH, so I guess that's wasted effort.

 

Totally Depends.... There are no absolutes. There are things I drench in verb either because I want to soften them or it is part of the effect. Buildups and risers come to mind. I apply verb to individual zones. If I ever apply verb globally I will use O-Verb with a Wet:Dry blend of 6:94 to no more than 12:88. Usually around 8:92 or 9:91. Any other verb on the Kronos seem to get too disfused too quickly. O-verb is my favorite.

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Some anecdotal observations from the trenches:

 

- Yeah, I seem to default to the O-verb as well, and I only use it like garlic. A little goes a long way.

 

- Some of you may remember I got frustrated and 86'd all the reverb off all my Kronos patches. While that certainly helped with clarity, I've gone back to the garlic - to taste.

 

- I WISH I was in an environment I could trust a sound guy to tastefully add the correct amount of reverb to completely dry keys. Even in the situations where we have a regular, dedicated sound guy - just ain't gonna happen. Not that he's not competent or any such accusation - it's just above his pay grade, and I don't have the authority (or desire) to upgrade him. So it's on me.

 

- I use far less then I used to. And part of that journey was killing all of it for a few gigs. When I started adding it back, I find I'm much more restrained and judicious. Maybe the next time I do a piano-only record with Pat Metheny, I'll go nuts on the reverb. But he never returns my calls anymore.

 

- I've resigned myself to the fact I have no control over anyone else in the band, or the FOH, or really ANYTHING...except what I'm feeding FOH. So I give them a little reverb.

..
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For my local gigs, reverb is something I like to control, and I apply it based on what I need to hear to be comfortable playing and my playing comfort is based mostly on what else is happening on the bandstand. As I originally said here (and others have repeated), that tends to be ballads/"spacier" = wetter, and uptempo/dense= dryer.

 

When I'm on the road with AWB playing bigger spaces, it's different I'm using in-ears and I have much less of an idea of what the sound is like out front, so I send our sound man my keys completely dry. I trust him to make it right for the venue. But, I also put a convolution verb on my in-ears mix only, so I feel like I'm playing in a "space." Again, it makes me comfortable and helps me play better. Should I be joining "ambience anonymous"? :)

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