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The importance of distortion

April 17, 2017

Compressors and EQ get most of the attention. It always seems to be that any audio forum you visit, the most focus is on what compressor to use, as if that is the main tool to get great sounds!


Of course, the truth is the top 5 tools all need to be used in balance (EQ, compression, reverb, delay and distortion/saturation) to get where most of us would like to with our mixes.


The thing is, distortion is usually the tool that gets put to the back of that list, yet it can accomplish so many things in one!


Firstly, using a little bit of distortion on a track, (e.g Universal Audio's 1176's all buttons in mode, or a tape emulation) actually does a little bit of compression, but in a really organic way, that musically pushes and pulls depending on how you play. If you start by sending your tracks through a drive plugin of some type, you will find you'll likely need less compression later.


Secondly, distortion can act as an EQ! There are distortion tools out there (e.g the distortion control that comes on Softube's Console 1) where you can alter the centre frequency of the drive, actually making the tone seem brighter or darker, and yet it is not as prominent as doing it with EQ. Again, it is very organic and an incredible way to start separating your tracks and letting them find their own place in the mix.


Thirdly, distortion will make your signal more complex. It adds harmonics to the signal, which is literally adding extra and complementary sound to your source. This gives the impression of a grander, more exciting, larger-than-life recording, which can be especially exciting when done to a whole mix.


Try using distortion and saturation across all of your tracks on your next mix (to varying degrees - don't go overboard, it's easy to do). You won't be disappointed.


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