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3 Bold & Creative Ways to Use Distortion in Your Productions

Dec 12, 2019

Distortion is an incredible producing and mixing utility that can often bring unexpected and interesting results. Here we’ll look at some of the more bold, creative and not-so-subtle ways that distortion can be used in your productions.

By Josh Bonanno

3 Bold & Creative Ways to Use Distortion in Your Productions

Many of us know the classic uses of distortion and how they can be beneficial when mixing and producing to develop certain tones. Here we’ll look at some of the more bold, creative and not-so-subtle ways that distortion can be used in your productions. These tips will help you craft an original and emotional signature for your music.

1. Need More Bass? Distort.

An interesting use of distortion that can live anywhere between subtle and outright dirty is using it to augment low-frequency elements in your mix. Because some smaller speakers and playback devices are physically incapable of reproducing the low frequencies created by instruments like bass guitars and 808s, the only way you can ensure that your low end is heard and will translate across platforms is to create additional harmonics of those instruments that can be reproduced on all speakers. The MDMX Screamer is modeled after the classic overdrive sound that has been a favorite of guitar players for years, and works for this application effortlessly.

3 Bold & Creative Ways to Use Distortion in Your Productions

Using the gain knob on the MDMX Screamer will dial in the amount of distortion and additional harmonic content that is being added to your low-end instrument. In the example below, I used a low 808 sample. Once the desired amount of distortion is added, you can use the tone and temperature parameters to change the overall sonic characteristics of how the newly added grit sits in your overall mix. Don’t be afraid to use the wet/dry mix knob to dial it back a bit if you go too far!

2. Make an Emotional Statement with Distortion

If distorting your low-end 808s and bass gets you excited about using distortion more liberally, then you’re beginning to see where things are going. The harder you push distortion, the more harmonics and overtones you are creating, and the louder, more compressed, and more “full” the sound starts to feel. Because of the large amount of harmonic content and small amount of dynamics, sounds which are heavily distorted are generally quite aggressive on our ears and hold a lot of power.

3 Bold & Creative Ways to Use Distortion in Your Productions

Understanding the power that a distorted sound can hold can allow you to creatively “make a statement” in your mix. Distorting a lead vocal for a certain part of the song is a common artistic way to make a section stand out in the mix. In the first example below I took some drum tracks and blended them in parallel using some more heavy-handed overdrive from the MDMX Overdrive module. The original drums feel good and have some size and attitude to begin with, but blending in a heavily distorted signal that is compressed even harder by MDMX Overdrives’ extreme-punch compressor gives the drums an attitude and life that can, placed correctly, deliver an emotional message to the listener.

Another example of “making a statement” with distortion is reinforcing a synth line that needs a bit more bite. The second example showcases a drum and synth loop. The drums have a huge body, size and presence in the overall arrangement but the synth feels rather boring and small in comparison. Again, using the MDMX Overdrive in parallel allows me to dial in an appropriate amount of gritty distortion that makes the synth line hold its own next to the drums. Using the gated rider setting to trigger the distortion lets the synth line feel more dynamic, and distorts only the heaviest and loudest parts of the performance. To me, this added movement to the synth line helps highlight the groove and syncopation of the entire loop.

3. Distortion for Sound Design (Creating Something Entirely New)

Extreme uses of distortion can go as far as creating a sound that is no longer recognizable next to the original source. Using distortion in this way is generally less of an “effect” used to enhance a sound in a mix, and more of an inspirational tool and sound-designing experience.

The idea of sound design, and creating new and inspiring ideas using the sounds and tools you already possess, is an important part of getting out of a creative rut, and can help build ideas behind entire songs. This concept is discussed further in a previous blog, but plugins like MDMX Fuzz and Berzerk Creative Distortion bring an added level of sonic manipulation to the table that make sound design even more immersive.

These plugins have the ability to artificially augment a sound by adding additional octaves to the source or even pitched notes within the key of your song, opening up a new world of potential when it comes to designing new sounds. Pitching your 808s to different notes in the scale before mangling them with distortion using Berzerk makes creating beats a lot more interesting.

As you’ll hear in the example below, transposing a simple guitar line down an octave and distorting it to taste using MDMX Fuzz creates a big synth-bass sounding instrument almost unrecognizable next to the original guitar track. Using these tools to your advantage allows for sounds that feel anything but organic, and can easily turn a normal sounding track into something unique and personalized to your musical taste.

Want more on distortion? Gets tips for mixing distorted guitars with Joe Barresi here.

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