The gated reverb effect on drums was one of the signature sounds of the 80s, with probably the most famous example being Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” The dramatic moment when the drums came crashing in was all about gated reverb.
It may seem like this is an easy effect to create, but it’s not as easy as it might seem. Not just any reverb sound will do, and the gate parameters are critical.
Fortunately, the Mixverb is reasonably good at doing gated drum sounds, especially with drums like toms that have a decent amount of sustain or ring.
The downside is that the Mixverb’s gate section doesn’t have a sidechain, which is needed for the most flexible and authentic gated reverb effects. Because the gate is after the reverb, its gating action tracks the reverb’s decay, not the drum’s decay. Also, if a couple hits happen in quick succession, they’ll keep the reverb going. This keeps the gate opens, and forfeits the gated effect.
For best results, each drum whose reverb you want to gate will need a separate output, processed by its own Mixverb. Fortunately, it doesn’t draw much CPU, so your computer won’t complain. For next week’s tip, we’ll cover a more traditional (albeit more complex) solution for gated drum effects. Meanwhile, let’s hear what the Mixverb can do.
The first half is unprocessed drums, the second half has gated Mixverb on the toms and snare.
The mixer setup (fig. 1) is straightforward.
Start with the initial settings shown in fig. 2, which are fairly crucial. Because the Gate is post-reverb, the Size, Gate Threshold, and Gate Release interact.
Next, vary the Gate Threshold to alter how long the gated reverb effect lasts. The optimum settings will depend on the drum sound itself, and the incoming level to the Mixverb. Even a 1 or 2 dB change in the threshold can have a major influence. Then, vary the Mix control to obtain the desired blend of dry and gated reverb sound.
Finally, play around with the Size and Gate Release controls to see if you can optimize the sound any further. Note that the snare in the audio example had the same settings, except the Gate Threshold was at the lowest possible level, and the Gate Release was 50 ms.
After trying this, you might think “Nice try, Craig…it sounds okay in the audio example, but my drums don’t sound like that.” Well, remember that we just got lucky with the Mixverb, and it’s not equally accommodating to all drums. So tune in next week, when we’ll show a more universal way to do gated reverb drums—which can also be very cool with gated delay.