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October 21, 2021

Vance Powell creating a room sound from scratch




In the excerpt for "Vance Powell Mixing "Tennessee Whiskey" By Chris Stapleton," Vance explains how he created the exquisite room sound in that song. The band recorded live in the studio at Studio A at RCA studios in Nashville, which imbued the tracks with a nice natural ambience. But Vance wanted even more room sound, so he manufactured some.

Beyond the Room

Here’s how he did it. He took a mix of the song after the band recorded it and played it through large speakers in Studio A, which he’d mic’ed up. He re-recorded it through the mics to create separate a stereo room-sound track.

When setting up the original tracking session, Vance purposely opened the doors to the iso rooms where the drums and guitar amp were situated. He wanted the sound of those instruments to be audible in the cacophonous live room. He also wanted their sound to get picked up a little in the mics for the vocal, acoustic guitar and bass amp that were set up in the main room.

Vance used a clever technique to augment the room sound in RCA Studio A.

DIY Room Sound

Getting a room sound as good as Vance did in the video would be challenging. You'd need access to a large studio with excellent sound, big, good-sounding speakers and excellent mics to record them with—not to mention Vance's vast experience and studio smarts.

Fortunately, there are ways to create a room sound from scratch from within your DAW. Sure, it won't be quite on the same level, but it can still be a very effective way make a collection of tracks recorded mainly via overdub sound more cohesive and more “live.”

Here's how:

  • Create an aux channel and put your best room-sound reverb on it. It could be a convolution reverb with an IR of an actual recording studio or just a great sounding plate or chamber.
  • Send all or most of the tracks to it using the aux sends on the individual channels and sub busses.
  • Bring up the level of the aux return to taste during the mix.

By putting the reverb on all or most of the tracks, you’re placing the band in a space, albeit a virtual one. You can also cheat and lower the sends somewhat of sources like bass and kick drum that are low-end heavy to avoid creating muddiness. You may want to use the reverb's EQ controls or a high-pass filter placed after the reverb to cut some of the low end out on the effects return, as well.

Creating a room sound by sending all the tracks to a reverb on an aux return.

By subtly bringing the aux track in, you can give the mix more depth without it sounding like a large room. Or, if you want to accentuate the ambience, turn the send higher or use a longer decay time.

Listen Up

Here's an example of a DAW-created room sound.

You’ll hear four bars of the band playing with no global reverb on it. Then, at bar 5, you’ll hear Eventide Tverb on all the tracks. Tverb emulates the Meistersaal at Berlin's Hansa Tonstudios and lets you adjust up to three mics in the simulated room. Notice how it adds dimension to the whole mix. In this case (and the next example), the bass guitar and kick drum sends were turned down lower than the others.

The Tverb setting for the first example.

The next example is just like the first, except that the reverb is Valhalla Plate. Although it’s not a simulated room, it still provides a similar effect. If you’re setting up a global reverb to simulate all the elements being in the same space, there’s no reason not to experiment with different reverbs and settings.

The second example uses Valhalla Plate for the room sound.

For most applications, you probably want to keep the effect subtle. Bring in just enough of the aux return to give the mix a little more depth.

Bleed in the Lead

In addition to getting room ambience, the biggest reason to record “live in the studio” like Vance did with Chris Stapleton is to allow the band to interact musically, as if they were onstage. For some musicians, that’s a more comfortable way to go and can result in some super vibey recordings.

If you watched the Puremix series "Start to Finish: Matt Ross Spang," you'd see another example of music recorded live in the studio to capture the maximum groove. Spang does much of his production that way.

The challenge with recording live in the studio is that it's harder to keep the instruments from bleeding into each other's mics, limiting your flexibility for the mix. For example, let's say you have a lead vocal track with a lot of drum bleed on it. If you want to turn the vocal up, you'll also be turning the drums up. In such a situation, it behooves you to get a pretty good balance of the tracks on input so that you don't have to do a lot of level changes.