Mixing Orchestra Tips: Pre or Post Fader Send Reverb?

When mixing your next project (especially orchestral) spare a thought for your audience. Using pre-fader sends, Peter Schwartz shows how to simulate how sounds will be perceived.  

I was inspired to write this article after discussing a situation with several composers who sought my advice on how to 'put more distance between the listener and the direct sound of the samples'

Peter Schwartz, composer, orchestrator, arranger, pianist, synthesist, and musical director, began piano studies at age 5 and went on to earn a degree in piano performance from Manhattan School of Music. It wasn't long afterward that he began working as a product specialist for New England Digital (Synclavier) and also as a sound progr... Read More


This is exactly what I have been experimenting with! Although it is true that you can't use your volume automation to 'goose' your dynamics in post-fader sends, when I'm working exclusively with virtual instruments, I like using MIDI expression for dynamics like an actual orchestra and pushing the sections back/forward with the pre-fader send on an early reflection reverb. Then my full long reverb can be post-fader send.
BTW- LOVE all of your MPV videos!!!! 👌🏽
Peter Schwartz
Hi Greg, thanks for your comments and compliments!

The technique you mentioned is fodder for a whole series of articles. Or a book LOL! There are soooo many ways to control volume and dynamics, and depending on which one you use will determine its effect on the reverb balances and ultimately the mix. But regarding CC#11, it's not implemented i the same way in every sampled instrument. In EastWest Hollywood Strings, for example, CC#11 affects what we could call "true instrumental dynamics" because it's controlling sample crossfading. But in their EWQL Orchestra, CC#11 only controls volume -- no different from using CC#7. Many other instruments respond to CC#11 by only controlling volume, and then there are those which don't respond to CC#11 at all.

Of course, this situation makes it hard to work consistently from one instrument to another, so my approach is to ride volume exclusively with faders -- and that makes the choice of post-fader sends critical for this kind of approach. Otherwise my virtual players would be sonically flying into the audience when I goose the volume, and retreating backstage when I tuck them back in the mix. :)
Your my undisputed "virtual orchestra" guru, Ski! I own all your MPV vids (except signal-flow). As I continue to tweak my templates and write more pieces, I'll consider retuning to "strictly post-fader" sends. I've been experimenting with sending from each instrument to the verb busses, vs sending only from the bus that I have set up for each instrument family (section). Any thoughts on that approach?
-Your humble "apprentice".
Peter Schwartz
Hi Greg,
Guru? Me? Oh man, I don't know what to say but thank you! (I don't take compliments well). Moving swiftly along... ;)

This is a tough question to answer, so I'm going to offer just very general guidelines...

If you tend to make significant volume rides on the Auxes (subgroups) for each instrument family, then the reverb send(s) should be on the Aux, and they should be post-fader. Here's an extreme example to illustrate the point, and there are 3 scenarios to consider, and they all involve post-fader sends...

Your trumpets and their reverb balances sound perfect. But they're too loud overall in the mix. Typical trumpet players, right? (LOL) So you bring down their subgroup -12 dB.

1• If you have *no* reverb sends on the individual trumpet instruments, but you did have sends on the subgroup (the Aux), when you lower the subgroup's fader you'll maintain the balance of reverb vs. dry signal on the trumpets overall. This is because a post-fader send ensures that the proportion of dry and wet signals is maintained when you adjust the level.

2• If you *did* have reverb sends on the individual trumpet instruments and *no* reverb send on the subgroup, turning down the subgroup's fader would result in a much wetter-sounding trumpet ensemble. The dry signal would be lower, but you won't have affected the amount of reverb being sent from the individual channels, hence the result would be lower (dry) trumpets with the same amount of reverb as before.

3• If you have sends on both the individual channels *and* the subgroup, lowering the subgroup's fader will result in a simultaneous reduction in both the level of the dry signal *and* the amount of reverb on the trumpets overall. However, the balance of dry signal to reverb you'll be left with might be quite different from what you had before. It all depends on how (or if) the reverb amount on each trumpet was different or not. Here, the subgroup's send adds reverb to your trumpets "globally" and equally for the entire ensemble.

It's a difficult call as to use #1 or #3. Number 2 is definitely not the way to go.

As I said in my previous post, this is fodder for a book or video course because of all the different permutations of signal flow possibilities and ultimately, what it actually sounds like (which might be great) even if you do things "wrong", if you know what I mean.

Hope that helps!
Great point. My current template is a #2 design, so I'll go back and experiment with using the sends on the "instrument family auxes". Maybe even using a single send for overall verb, and an insert on each aux with really short verbs for 4 different "early reflection" settings for strings, woodwinds, brass & percussion front-to-back. 😉

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