Gated reverb on drums is a sound that you either love or hate, but either way, you have to admit that it played a big role in music in the 1980s. All things in music recycle, so gated reverb is back again on hits by Lorde, Haim and Taylor Swift, among many others, so it’s interesting to take a look back at how this technique was created in the first place.
Believe it or not, gated reverb came about by accident as a result of a new “Listen Mic” feature (seen on the graphic on the left) included on a brand new SSL 4000 console that engineer/producer Hugh Padgham was using on a Peter Gabriel record. The circuit featured a compressor and a gate to make hearing the talkback of the musicians on the floor easier, but when drummer Phil Collins played while it was engaged, the special magic of the feature was revealed.
After Collin’s big hit “In The Air Tonight,” (here’s a production analysis of the song) the sound was in demand by artists and producers everywhere, and the new (at the time) AMX RMX16 reverb contained a preset with the same sound that went on to signify 80s drums on radio. Today, every reverb plugin has a non-linear or gated setting providing roughly the same sound, so it’s a lot easier, and cheaper, to achieve. In fact, SSL even makes a 500 series rack module built around the same compression circuit.
The video below is an excellent overview of the technique’s history.