Gated reverb is an audio processing technique that is applied to recordings of drums (or live sound reinforcement of drums in a PA system) to make the drums sound powerful and "punchy," while keeping the overall mix clean and transparent-sounding. The gated reverb effect, which was most popular in the 1980s, is made using a combination of strong reverb and a noise gate.
Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder used it on many of the songs on the 1976 album Velvet Darkness by Jazz fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth. The drummer on this recording was Narada Michael Walden.
Another early use of this technique was on the 1977 David Bowie album Low. Use of the gated reverb effect spread to popular music during the 1980s. Producer Mutt Lange was a pioneer at drenching the recorded drum sound in gated reverb. An early and prominent use of gated reverb was in Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham's production of the third Peter Gabriel solo album.
Methods of creation
"Classic" analogue method
The oldest, most "natural" technique can be done with minimal electronic processing. The steps for processing are as follow:
This results in a very live sounding drum that is rapidly cut off with none of the overpowering secondary reflections associated with reverb. Note that this process is generally used in studio recording environment only: it's hard to reproduce such effect when playing live, though both Phil Collins and Genesis were able to incorporate it into most of their live performances.
Modern digital method
When using digital reverb unit, it is possible to replicate classic scheme in much simpler steps:
Each channel needs its own "reverb+noise gate" unit. Applying the effect on already mixed drums won't work properly. Most modern digital reverb units contain several "Gated reverb" presets, thus removing the need for a separate noise gate, compessor and commutation, effectively making it possible to get gated reverb sound from just single normal close mic or drum trigger. Also note that such setup does not require "live room" with huge reverberation ambience for the drumset and can be reproduced without major difficulties at live gigs.
Gated reverb is most commonly used for empowering drum sounds, particularly snare drum and bass drum. The technique became so popular and the "gated reverb" sound is so recognizable that many drum machines and samplers include some sort of "gated drums" setting. These sounds are usually referred to as gated snare and gated kick, omitting the word "reverb" from the original name.
While General MIDI does not specify particular sound characteristics for its drum kits, it does include two distinct snare sounds, sometimes referred to as acoustic snare (38) and electric snare (40), the latter usually implemented with a "gated snare" sound. Later MIDI standards such as GS and XG include drum kits that specify gated drum sounds, most usually patch #16 (GS #17, with shifted numbering) named "Power drumkit" or "Rock drumkit", or patch #24 (GS #25) named "Electronic drumkit". Thus, for example, for snare drum, distinct sounds may be referred to as power snare or rock snare.
Gated reverb as an effect was used on countless drum tracks during the 1980s, to the point that such a sound became a defining characteristic of that decade's popular music.
Phil Collins used gated reverb extensively, both in his solo work as well as working with other artists. Producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham famously applied gated reverb to Collins' drum timbre on Peter Gabriel song "Intruder", Collins first use of the technique. Examples from Collins' own music include "In the Air Tonight", "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)", "I Don't Care Anymore" and "I Wish It Would Rain Down", and the Genesis tracks "Mama" and "No Son of Mine". The British band Duran Duran also made repeated use of the recording technique, heard prominently on the drums on the 1984 hit single "The Wild Boys" as well as the 1985 James Bond theme song "A View To A Kill". Bruce Springsteen used the effect on his 1984 hit "Born in the U.S.A.", with the drums being played by Max Weinberg.
- Robyn Flans (May 1, 2005). "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". Mix.
- Hodgson, Jay (2010). Understanding Records, p.87. ISBN 978-1-4411-5607-5.
- White, Paul (June 1996). "Canyons of The Mind: Psycoacoustics of Reverb". Sound On Sound.