Why are we 'ho-bags for verbal punishment?
So disclaimer to all "Mastering Engineers" - one of us has been doing it for 12+ years. Labels like Beta-lactam Ring, Kranky, Eclipse, and others. So talk down on us all you want, but we, like you, have our ways. Mastering Engineers who think they have the "right and only answer" are, in our experience, poor ones. Open-minded engineers are the folks who produce the good stuff.
To those who are trying to learn: don't listen to any
advice on this thread without taking into account that the ultimate answer is: what do you like, what sounds right to you, and what works for you (say you have limited gear, for example)? You
are the one who gets to decide what's "right" or not, not matter what "experts" say.
OK, doing bass in mono is great, but great ambient has to be stereo. Even if Robert Rich is not to your taste, we'd recommend picking up a couple of CDs from his first Hypnos (re?) release to his upcoming CD (March 2010.) You'll see how important stereo is to making ambient really put you in a different headspace.
asked another great question which should be its own thread: when to use compression? And like this one, the answers you'll get are: never, sometimes, depends, always. Or simplified: a million answers that only confuse, each of which is both totally wrong and right at the same time (think "Zen".)
We don't use compression very often (but on rare occasions) - we program and tweak every reverb custom to every track to get that "ethereal sound" (when we want it) so we don't need to worry about that. Programming it to come in at the same levels is work but we like it better than trying to compress before or after. Compression is a major bee-atch (we own an RNC, a classic dbx, and 10 SW compressors) so we save it for vocals and our one synth that can go from 0 to 11 playing a patch in a millisecond - and that's more limiting than compression.
We compress DJ mixes but only because the limiter on the Zoom 400 digital recorder is harsh and the compression is actually quite good.
If your reverb is getting out of control but you lose the quiet parts:
0. Always keep a completely dry mix/track to work on.
1. You can run it through 'verb twice - get the quiet stuff on one track, the compressed stuff on another, then mix just like wet/dry on any effect, to your liking.
2. You can get reverbs that will effect certain freq. ranges which you'll find often are where the "quiet parts" come from, then effect the rest in the more forceful way you want.
3. Lastly, you can use reverbs for other effects - which is why the best answer
is your own: "I'll have to experiment..." but do it with 1-2 reverbs (to start, at least.)
And don't forget that reverbs in "ambient" musick can be used like an instrument - our upcoming CD has a track where we used four reverb "passes" over a track: first to get the basic sound; second to extenuate what we liked and lower what we didn't (multi-band 'verb); third to create an echo/beating sound by over-driving it like a whore; fourth to smooth everything out to (hopeful) mellowness.
OK, we'll shut up now. Our advice taken best with much grains of salt, value two cents circa 1970 GBP. Feel free to ignore or take the piss outta us.