Distortion In Music – What It Is and How It Helps Create The Best Mixes?

Distortion In Music

Most music creators will face a time when distortion becomes crucial to achieving the deep, punchy sound they want. We all know distortion in some way, whether it’s intentional, like overdrive on a guitar, or unintentional, like when your speakers have a bad connection.

If you’re curious about what distortion is and how to use it properly to improve your music production, this guide is for you.

What Is Audio Distortion In Music?

The original audio signal is measured in a waveform. Distortion refers to significant changes to this waveform, whether done on purpose or by accident. Technically, any effects altering the audio signal (like compression or EQ filters) count as distortion.

However, in music production, distortion usually means more significant changes to the waveform that transform the sound itself.

Why Would You Want To Use Distortion Effects In Music Production?

Now, if distortion significantly changes the original signal, why would you want to use it? As a creative effect, artists have various reasons for desiring a distorted sound, and some common ones are listed below:

  • Going Vintage: Add tonal character and warmth, creating a classic and appealing feel to the music. It’s the Lo-Fi sound often heard in chill and jazzhop genres. This is an example of creatively using distortion in music.
  • Strength and Aggression: Enhance the intensity and rawness of guitars or drums, commonly used in rock or metal genres.
  • New Creations: Intentionally distorting elements can generate unique sonic textures and sound spaces, adding an original touch to a composition.
  • Manipulate Dynamic Range: Certain distortion effects can bring more detail to quieter parts and offer precise control over the range of a piece.

The Main Types of Sound Distortion Techniques

Next, let’s explore the primary ways of using distortion in sound engineering to better understand how music producers use this effect to shape the audio they desire.

1. Overdrive

Overdrive is a distortion effect that subtly adds harmonic distortion to a sound, mainly used on guitars. It’s a gentle form of distortion that introduces warmth and character to the sound without being too forceful.

This enhancement of musical texture is achieved by pushing the input signal beyond its maximum level, creating a warm, saturated sound. Overdrive is accessible as an effect in Soundtrap.

Simply click on the piano keyboard button on your Soundtrap instrument track to open the Instrument panel. On the right, click the “Add Effects” button, then select “Overdrive” to apply the effect. Feel free to experiment with adjusting this effect to see how it influences the output!

2. Fuzz

Fuzz is a bold type of audio distortion that produces a rough, buzzing sound. Producers use it to get a more distorted and powerful sound, often heard in rock, metal, and punk music.

To create fuzz, the input signal is clipped, forming a square wave, and extra high-frequency harmonics are added. It’s perfect for giving a track character and personality.

You can also apply fuzz as an effect in Soundtrap using the dynamic distortion feature. Simply click the “Add Effects” button in the Instrument panel to explore this option.

3. Tape Saturation

Tape saturation is a type of audio distortion that imitates the warm and natural sound of analog tape recording. It adds harmonic distortion to the original audio, creating a fuller and warmer sound with extra depth.

This technique is often used to give tracks a vintage feel, especially in genres like rock, blues, and funk. In Soundtrap, a similar effect can be achieved by using the “Classic Dist” feature in the “Add Effects” panel and adjusting the settings.

4. Clipping

Clipping happens when you boost a waveform to a level beyond what your output device can handle, resulting in the removal of certain frequencies. It’s called clipping because it cuts off a portion of the frequencies.

This usually occurs unintentionally when a track’s volume is raised too high. However, clipping can be intentional, and all the distortion effects we discussed involve some form of clipping.

Most producers prefer using specific effects rather than just raising the volume excessively, as it can damage sound quality. Soft clipping is an alternative technique that boosts the waveform but smoothens out peaked soundwaves, creating a gentler sound.

5. Harmonic Distortion

When extra frequencies are introduces to a sound, harmonic distortion occurs. The introduced frequencies brings warmth and richness to the track and are the multiples of the original sound. Harmonic distortion is employed most frequently in genres like rock and funky while they are also used to enrich the sound of acoustic instruments such as guitars, and drums.

6. Inharmonic Distortion

When the sound’s harmonic frequency components don’t line up properly, this results in inharmonic distortion.
This generally has a negative effect by producing a harsh, discordant sound. There are also some instances where inharmonic distortion may be artistically employed to give a music distinctive textures and tones.

Particularly in genres like experimental or electronic music, music producers might use inharmonic distortion to give their compositions more depth and personality.

Best Practices to Mix Your Music with Distortion

Here are a few easy ways to include distortion into your mixing and compositional work.

  1. Start little: Apply a little amount of distortion at first, then progressively increase it. Your mix may sound overly harsh or ambiguous if it has too much distortion.
  2. Recognize Your Sound Source: Distortion may be applied to a variety of instruments and vocalists, but the response of each to distortion varies. Select the appropriate effect by taking into account the particular characteristics of the sound you’re distorting.
  3. Control the Low Wavelengths: When applying distortion, strive for a well-balanced blend. Distortion may make low-frequency and bass-heavy parts murky. Use a separate EQ or high-pass filters to manage this before adding distortion.
  4. Verify the References: By alternating between the original and distorted sounds and comparing your work with other songs, you may compare the two. Make sure the distortion you apply fits the style you want to achieve and isn’t excessive.
  5. Be Original: Consider the effect that distortion will have on your song and why you are employing it. The way distortion shapes the flavor of your mix may be quite important. Try new things and think outside the box to give your song a distinctive sound.

When You Should Not Use Distortion In Your Music?

Though it can be a useful instrument in music production, distortion might not always be the ideal option. You might wish to refrain from utilizing distortion in the following scenarios:

  1. Clarity: Distortion may not be the best choice if you want a clear, undistorted sound. Although it warms the mix, it may also muddle it up, making it difficult to hear different parts. Play around with effects like EQ, compression, and reverb to get a more clear and accurate sound.
  2. Musical genre: While distortion is frequently used in rock, metal, and punk, it may not be appropriate for many genres. Disturbances may mask the details in a composition that requires a delicate or nuanced tone. When choosing distortion, consider the genre and desired emotional effect.
  3. Personal Taste: In the end, one’s own taste ultimately determines whether to employ distortion. It is not required to be used if you find the distortion sounds offensive or if it is not in keeping with your artistic vision. Trust your creative intuition over certain tools or effects when shaping the sound of your song; there are plenty of different effects and approaches accessible.

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