Today's question: Reverb. What do you use, and how do you apply it?
Another great question! In the world of classical recording, reverb is a must, as we experience classical music in concert halls (mostly), or at least resonant spaces that allow sounds to be warmer and wetter than say, a super-dry space. Of course, if you record in a dry space you can make it sound like a concert hall using today's reverb VST plug-ins like Altiverb or the Waves bundles.
I use Altiverb for all of my reverb generation and/or enhancement of existing spaces. You can find out more about the software by visiting audioease.com. The staff at AE have developed software that allows them to sample spaces and develop signatures based on microphone location and source projection. For example, everyone has probably walked into a space and clapped their hands to deduce what kind of reverb tail a room has. That's basically what AE did, but they erased the hand clap, leaving only the signature of the space. Pretty cool, yes?
Most of the recording that Garnet House does is percussion, and a good deal of it is recorded at Florida State in our percussion studio. This is a pretty dry space, but it's very accurate--it doesn't color any source signals with false bass or weird responses from corners--it's very clean and predictable. So I can record in this space and have a great idea of how the Altiverb halls will take that source and translate it into where and how I hear the source on stage.
When I first started, I used a LOT of reverb, because it was just so cool-sounding. Who doesn't love a great reverb on a source? But as I've gained more experience I find myself using it more judiciously--and probably less of it percentage-wise--than when I started.
For me, the real trick is finding a room or space to place your source, say a solo marimba--that enhances the natural tendencies of the instrument and the player, as well as the style of the music being recorded. The spaces will naturally EQ the source (which makes sense if you think about it; a wooden stage and room will sound different than one of stone), and then you just have to figure out the position from which you listen (closer or farther away), and determine how much of the signal comes out wet or dry (determined by a wet-dry adjustment--wet is more reverb, dry is less). These, along with the size and shape of the room, determine the reverb signature.
The other question involves the whole album--most orchestral recordings or solo recordings will use one reverb signature for the whole record. Sometimes that's definitely the way to go, but sometimes with percussion you might like different spaces for different pieces. For example, on Blake Tyson's Firefish we used the same space for every piece except the multiple percussion piece called "Inside the Shining Stone." Turns out it was written to be performed in a very old stone castle--so that's exactly where we put it using Altiverb.
Ultimately, reverb is like icing on a cake--you don't want to be overwhelmed by it; too much can definitely be too much! But in the right measure it can add a great deal of seasoning to your recording and make a super sound source sound absolutely magical. So keep experimenting and remember that some hosted VST reverbs will lower your amplitude when applied--so keep your ears nice and sharp when in post production!