Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Distorting the truth.

Ever spend all day working on a certain track, trying to make it have some depth and emotion but end up getting only frustrated? It happens to the best of us.

What can we do in order to make a track, that we are composing, sound better or stand out in our songs? What about amping up a thin sounding vocal? How about fixing up a bass track that just will not cut through the mix? Here is one idea that you can try to almost any type of instrumental or vocal track.

Adding some beef to your mixes.

Running an instrument through a distortion effect (weather it be a distortion pedal or a software based distortion) can give it the separation and “the balls” that it needs to cut through any mix, no matter how muddy or how cloudy it may be.

But how do we know how much distortion to add, how to add it, or even what type of distortion to use?

The easy answer is trying it out for your self. I say this because I do not know what sort of song you are writing, or what sort of track you are adding distortion to. The idea is to read this post, and then play around with these ideas that I freely give to you all, on your own. Don’t be afraid to play with the dials, switches, and buttons on the distortion unit just to see what sort of unique sound you can come up with.

Please don’t limit yourself to adding a distortion to just a bass or a vocal track either. Adding a touch of distortion on even a quick snare fill can be “sound polish” for your demo. It can bring a tracks data to the very front of a mix and it can make all the difference.

Using automation when putting some distortion on a drum roll or fill can be the way to go. Using automation in this manner can allow for a more precise setting amount, and will make mixing down the tracks easier too.

Recently I had a problem. I had written what I thought was a good bass line for a song, but it sounded flat against a powerful guitar riff. In order to get it to stand apart from the mix I tried delays of varying lengths, reverbs, compressors, and even an EQ tweaking, but it all failed. I figured that I might have to clear the track and then start all over with a new amp and bass combination. Then I had another idea.

I simply added a tad of distortion to the bass, and whammo! The bass suddenly came to the front of the mix, and yet it still sat in the song nicely. I only had to make sure that the distortion was small in size and different than the distortion that the guitars were using. Suddenly the bass line sounded like a funky vibe that made the whole cut much more interesting.

But how do we apply distortion to bass guitars and other tracks in our mixes?

There are many ways to use distortion in order to achieve better mixes and I will explain only a few. Why only a few? You are just as creative as I am! I will get you started in the right direction, but you must use it to your own tastes.

The first method that I often use in order to add distortion to a track is by simply putting distortion directly “in line” with the signal path. This means running the instruments out put directly into a distortion unit and then running the output of the distortion unit back into the track.

This may be the easiest way, but it also may be the most destructive way of adding an effect like distortion. What I mean by this is that you may not be able to adjust the level of the distortion, once its recorded, and bringing out more or less of the original tracks data (without the distortion) will be impossible.

Sending the distortion to a track using an effects loop is perhaps a better way, and for a couple of reasons. First of all, you can adjust the level of the distortion being added to the track at any moment in time. Secondly you can add or subtract the overall amount of the original tracks data back into the mix. You know how much I love using effect send/return loops, so I will stop repeating myself. Well, almost….

Sometimes a mix can benefit from using a buss distortion. This is a distortion that is added as a send return loop, to any amount of the tracks that you want it on, and to one level or another. You might have heard of bus compression, and, well, it is the same principal. Once again only a certain amount of the distortion comes through the mix as you can adjust the levels of send and return for each track. Try it, you might like it!

Bottom line is that you should give using a distortion unit more play time in your overall mixes. You can use it to bring a thin vocal to the front, a bass ride fatter in a mix, or all of the above!

Please feel free to comment as you like with any suggestions or questions. Also, please feel free to put your email into the subscribe box so that you never miss a trick!

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