Like many great inventions, the instantly recognisable 80s drum sound, known as "gated reverb", was discovered by accident!
If your technical knowledge of music is limited, you may have never heard the term “gated reverb.” But we guarantee you’ve definitely heard the effect in a song (or, thousands of them!). It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first hit our airwaves in the 80s, and then went on to become synonymous with certain genres, artists and producers.
If you can recall the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your mind, you know what sound we’re referring to… here’s a little refresher…
This iconic element of pop music production might not have emerged at all if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.
The discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s 3rd studio album, the self-titled one often referred to as Melt by fans. Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as normal when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band and deliver instructions to the stage from far away. That microphone was not designed or meant for recording music because its heavy compressors were intended to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilised a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut-off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music before then.
They loved the effect so much that Peter Gabriel made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album.
12 months later, Phil Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb, ever!
The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Here’s our 80s Spotify playlist featuring best uses of this great effect, can you hear it?
Here's a more detailed breakdown of how this sound, that defined an era of pop music, came to be...