Gated reverb—the sharp, gunshot drum sound that defines so much of ’80s pop—was the result of an accident. On a scale that runs somewhere from “slipping on ice and finding a quarter” to “letting your petri dishes get moldy and discovering penicillin,” one of the best drum tones ever invented rates somewhere near the top (no offense, medical science).
A video from Vox’s Earworm series tracks the inception of the sound, illustrating how one studio slipup created a technique that would form the bedrock of a decade’s pop hits.
As the video shows, gated reverb is the result of a happy mistake during a session for Peter Gabriel’s 1980 album Melt. The drum track, played by Phil Collins, was picked up by an overhead compressor mic that was only meant to allow musicians in the studio to talk to the engineers and producer in the booth. The result was a sound that would go on to feature as a noticeable texture in songs like Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” and Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.”
Vox does a great job of explaining the technical background of the recording technique, explaining how the effect’s been achieved over decades of advancements in technology and used in pop songs ranging from ’80s classics to modern tracks by Carly Rae Jepsen, CHVRCHES, and Lorde.
For more examples, there’s also this Spotify playlist by Earworm’s Estelle Caswell, appropriately titled “An Ode To Gated Reverb.” Listen for yourself and enjoy the drum sound whose power has resisted a changing world far better than antibiotics (seriously, no offense, medical science).