Reverse reverb, sometimes called reverse echo or reverse regeneration, simply takes the reverb tail of any instrument and reverses it. Creating it is a matter of printing the wet signal of a reversed audio track. Reverse reverb is typically accompanied by the original, unreversed recording played back correctly.
A Short History of Reverse Reverb
The origins of reverse reverb are spotty at best, with conflicting stories as to who discovered it first. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page famously claims to have developed the technique in 1967 for the Yardbirds’s track “Ten Little Indians.” The effect would later show up on some of Zeppelin’s most celebrated tracks, including “When the Levee Breaks,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “You Shook Me.”
In 1993, Guitar World Magazine interviewed Page, in which he explained how he showed Led Zeppelin engineer Glyn Johns how to make the effect. The latter had reportedly insisted “It [couldn’t] be done,” with Page telling him, ‘Yes, it can. I’ve already done it [on ‘Ten Little Indians’].”
Despite all this, the technique was used on a Lee Mallory single, “That’s the Way It’s Gonna Be,” a year prior to the Yardbirds “inventing” it.
It’s also possible that artists experimenting with tape loops in the ’40s and ’50s accidentally stumbled upon the effect as well. While we don’t know exactly how it came about, it’s become a widely used technique over the years.
Reverse reverb was used from time to time in the ’70s and ’80s, but didn’t really become popular until shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine brought it to the forefront, showing it could be used as a standard sonic ingredient. Typically, reverse echo is used to lead into new sections of a song.
It’s frequently used on vocals, where the technique is applied to the first word or syllable of a vocal passage as a build-up.
Reverse reverb is a great way to build anticipation of a big “drop,” like in EDM. It preps the listener for what’s to come, and is a fun way to add some movement and excitement to a mix.
How to Do Reverse Reverb
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll examine the most common application of the technique, which is on vocals. The following is a step-by-step walkthrough of how to create a reverse reverb build-up on a vocal track.
Select and duplicate the audio you wish to add reverse echo to.
This could be a word or phrase, or even an entire vocal clip if you’d like. If you decide to select an entire clip, you’ll have more to work with when it comes time to edit and place your reverse reverb.
In Pro Tools, simply duplicate (Shift + Option + D) the selected track or create a new audio track (Shift + Command + N) to copy the selection down on it. With your duplicated clip, apply the Audiosuite function Reverse to the duplicated vocals.
Next, apply reverb to the reversed audio.
The next step is to apply reverb to the reversed audio. You’ll probably want a long decay time; somewhere between 2 and 5 seconds should be fun to play with. Dialing in the decay time is important, though. If it’s too long, the fade-in will be too slow; too short, and the build-up is too fast.
You’ll have to consider the song’s tempo and mess around with the decay time until it feels right in context. Also, make sure that the signal is 100% wet. For this effect, none of the dry signal should be audible.
In Pro Tools, select the reversed clip and open up Audiosuite. Find your favorite reverb plugin and print the effect directly onto the track.
Finally, reverse the clip one more time.
We have the reversed vocal with reverb printed on it, and now it’s time to reverse the reverb itself. We’ve already done this in step one—select the freshly printed wet track and reverse it once more. Now we have reverse reverb!
Once again, in Pro Tools, select the Audiosuite Reverse function and apply it again.
Now you can edit and place the clip.
From here, it’s a matter of editing to taste. Depending on the overall effect you’re going for, you may trim the clip to just include the lead-in to the first word of phrase of the vocal line. This is probably one of the most common ways to use the effect as a build-up to a big vocal drop.
You should line up the last transient of the reverse reverb with the first transient of the vocal line you’re building up to.