Most people using Logic Pro X will probably know how to create an effects return. Using a return to house a simple reverb or rely effect is pretty straight forward, the real fun happens when you start to make the whole thing a little more dynamic.
This trick works with pretty much any sound that benefits from a heavy dose of reverb but as that is more or less everything, let’s narrow it down a bit. This will work extremely well with sustained performances that are organized into phrases. So a vocal part or guitar lead part that has obvious breaks.
The original vocal phrase we’ll be processing.
The untreated audio:
In this case we are using a vocal part that has a few distinct phrases and ends pretty abruptly. In the next step we’ll apply a heavy reverb and then see how we can bring the whole thing under control without altering the reverb intensity or decay time.
At this point I sent the vocal channel to a new return buss. I placed a Space Designer plug-in on the return and dialled in a stupidly large reverb. I think the preset ended up with around 8 seconds of decay. Obviously this is a little over the top, but it was simply to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technique we are about to use.
The reverb return is added along with some basic high pass filtering.
The long reverb drowns the audio:
As you can hear, the reverb is pretty massive and simply swamps the original vocal. The original phrase comes out of it all ok but the resulting decay is all over the remaining phrase and makes the whole thing unusable. Of course sensible people would use a shorter reverb time… but not us!
Now we need to add some dynamic control. Side chaining is an excellent way to achieve this and usually the kick drum or other key mix element would be used to trigger the compression but in this case it can be a better move to use the vocal to side chain itself.
This simply involves creating a compressor and routing the vocal channel back in as the side chain input. What this means is that when the vocal is present the reverb signal will be suppressed, allowing the effect to breathe only during the rests and pauses between phrases.
The side chain compressor added with the vocal as a key input.
The side chained reverb in action:
The key here is to fine tune the ratio, threshold and release times to get exactly the right amount of effect to ‘rise’ out of the gaps. This is actually pretty easy once you have the basic setup in place. The timing will obviously vary greatly depending on the program material you are using.
If you like the idea of processing your returns in this way you might want to try some extra touches. Adding delay, filtering and distortion can be great ways of transforming the output of a return and there is no rule to say you can’t build chains in this way.
An extra flanger and delay being added to the mix.
The final effects in place:
Here I added some delay to smooth the effects of the side chaining and also a flanger right at the end of the chain for extra movement and dimension. This is certainly a different way to treat your vocals and guitars.