This is what you might be thinking of when you read the title of this blog. We’re not talking about metal heads shredding in the garage here.
Distortion comes in many forms and is so much a part of the sound of modern recorded music that without, things just wouldn’t be the same. Seriously. You need it. You want it. It’s just that thing that could make a vocal sing, a snare smack or an organ sizzle. We’ve been told over and over again that distortion in the age of digital recording is a bad thing. A very bad thing, indeed. I say bullsh*t.
Let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about the kind of distortion you get when whatever you’re tracking is hitting the converter input way too hard or you’ve failed to manage the gain staging and something has gone so far into the red that your monitors are begging for mercy, either. What I’m referring to is intentional, warming, musical distortion. We’re talking about voodoo here, kids. There are lots of ways to get it in the pricey world of vintage analog gear, but let’s stick with the plugins since that’s what most of you are using.
Just like outboard gear, distortion inducing plugins com in different flavors. I personally like UA’s FATSO Sr on drums and weak synths. To add a little zip to guitars, bass and occasionally vocals the Soundtoys Radiator often works nicely. The plugin that I find most useful for adding a little attitude to vocals, drums, bass… and well… almost anything under the sun is another Soundtoys creation: The Decapitator.
Both offerings from Sountoys offer a “mix” control for blending the wet and dry sound to suit your taste.
Let’s not forget that tape machines are also prized for their lovely harmonic distortion. Part of the reason DAW/digital mixing has been stereotyped as sounding fragile, cold and decidedly less musical than analog mixing is that along with distortion, printing onto magnetic tape introduced other artifacts such as noise, saturation, smear and a bit of non-linear modulation. For those reasons, I rarely print a mix any more that doesn’t include this gem from Universal Audio…
Let’s not forget about the most common way to add grit and girth to a sound. A killer mic preamp. Both tube and solid state units have the ability to add character, although each in their own way.
Universal Audio Neve 1073
Yes, yes. I love me some Universal Audio. I use this UA 1073 the same way I’d use the hardware unit. I can crank up the gain on the preamp input and use the output control to get the level under control. I can get as much or as little grit and solid-state as I want flavor as I want. The same method applies to a tube preamp like the 610 below. It’s a different flavor of overdrive and you’ll find that on different sources, one may work better than the other.
Give these ideas a shot. It could be just the thing to wake up a tired track and if you’re lucky, add a little of that voodoo that you’ve been looking for. Tell us about your favorite methods or plugins in the comment section below.