Distortion is one of the most popular and widely used effects in all music production.
You would be hard pressed to find a song that doesn’t use at least some distortion.
Many producers seem to think they can just grab their favorite distortion plugin, throw it on one of their tracks, dial in the dry wet knob, and they’re good to go.
But the best producers know that there is a world of creativity to be explored with these dynamic processors and getting creative opens up a completely new sonic palette.
Here are 5 unique ways to get the most out of your distortion units.
1. Automate your distortion
For some reason, producers often overlook the dramatic effects which can be achieved by automating their distortion. Getting creative with the automation of your distortion plugins is an excellent way to add interest and contrast to your production.
Here are few ways to use distortion automation:
- automate in more intense distortion for the main parts of your arrangement so this section will contain more harmonic content and appear more exciting to the listener.
- automate the parameters of your distortion unit to play along with the rhythm of your drums.
- do slow ramp up and ramp down automation curves on certain elements or the entire mix when transitioning from section to section to give a sense of tension and release.
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2. Distort Your Sends
Adding distortion units to your return/send chains can be a great way add tonal interest to your mix. Your reverb and buss sends work especially well when affected by distortion.
Make sure to experiment with the placement of your distortion plugin as different placements on the chain will yield different sonic results.
3. Control Your Distortion
The dynamics of your sound can quickly get out of hand when you apply distortion because it adds so much harmonic content. One way to control the tone of the distortion is to put a compressor or multi-band compressor before the distortion unit.
This will ensure a more consistent tone as the dynamics of your sound will already be in check before harmonic content is added.
If you don’t use a compressor before your distortion and the sound dynamics are a bit off, then you run the risk of having it become too distorted and poking through the mix in a negative way.
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4. Use Bit-crushing For Mixing
Bit-crushers are versatile tools which provide their own unique distortion effect and can serve as a mixing tool.
Bit-crushers work especially well for taming the high end of your sounds.
If you are having trouble with EQing or compressing the high end of your track, throw on a bit crusher and apply a small amount of the effect.
The degradation in the resolution of the sound smooths out the high end in a way that audio compression and EQing can’t.
5. Keep it parallel
As we all know, distortion can get quite messy when it is applied improperly.
When you apply a distortion plugin directly to a sound, it can become overpowered by the added harmonic content and increased signal level.
This is where parallel distortion comes in handy!
Load up your distortion unit on a return/send and apply the signal to taste.
Of course, many distortion plugins come with a dry/wet knob.
Why not just use this instead of a having an extra channel?
So the next time you reach for your distortion unit, don’t just dial in a couple of settings and move on.
Use the tips above and get the most out of your distortion plugins.