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Still don't understand distortion or how to use it
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
Deleted 5edf3fa
Guest
Still don't understand distortion or how to use it

I can't quite understand what it is exactly I hear when I spin that distortion knob in any plugin. All I know when it gets too much I get sound breakup.

I know theory, odd harmonics "enrich" higher frequencies, even make bottom fuller or something like that.

I don't really hear or understand what I'm supposed to hear. I think the sound changes but what it is that changed I can't really put my finger on.

It's so subtle if barely noticeable so I haven't been thinking about it much. Usually when I load up Omnichannel, I'll just get that knob to 3 o'clock (about 75%) and click ODD or EVEN depending what sounds cleaner by default and don't even listen what it does because (I used to and could never tell and then I stopped even trying) I don't know what I'm supposed to look (listen) for. All I know SOC has a very good distortion so I go with that automatically. It doesn't make things worse, so why not use it.

If I load up CLA Mixhub, I dial it to +40 and the use the -20 knob and also do gain -20, so I get the same signal just with 3 o'clock distortion.

I watched some youtube videos with producers maybe using it like at 25-40% max but honestly I don't hear anything at all at that level.

So now I realized I probably need to ask this question.

What does it do? Can you explain in layman's words? Does it make the sound "rounder", "fuller", "more distant" etc? What instruments benefit from it? Vocals? Drums? Bass? Guitars? Pianos? Woodwinds? Synths? Organs? Violins?

I just put it on every track. I get a feeling I shouldn't.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Deleted 5edf3fa View Post
I can't quite understand what it is exactly I hear when I spin that distortion knob in any plugin. All I know when it gets too much I get sound breakup.
yes because that is what it is. I think your understanding is correct on that point.
Quote:
It's so subtle if barely noticeable so I haven't been thinking about it much.
many engineers would say it is supposed to be subtle. For decades, audio equipment was not clean enough to record without any distortion, and as a result people did not generally need to "add" it as a separate process.

Nowadays, everyone is saturation-happy. Because they need to add it back in to super clean digital stuff, but nobody is telling them when to stop. I think a lot of people get the wrong idea because they are reading exaggerated descriptions.

Quote:
Usually when I load up Omnichannel, I'll just get that knob to 3 o'clock (about 75%) and click ODD or EVEN depending what sounds cleaner by default
If you like what sounds cleaner, you should consider that nobody is forcing you to use any "distortion" at all. As the I Ching says: "never ignore the possibility of inhibition, for this is the basis of human freedom."

Quote:
What does it do? Can you explain in layman's words? Does it make the sound "rounder", "fuller", "more distant" etc? What instruments benefit from it? Vocals? Drums? Bass? Guitars? Pianos? Woodwinds? Synths? Organs? Violins?
When you add harmonics to a sine wave, the wave becomes increasingly squared off. My take on distortion is that it is a shortcut to imitating sounds with rich harmonic content. But is is a shortcut, a shorthand for harmonic content. A little bit may make something sound "richer", more may make it sound, well, "distorted". Personally, I would rather spend more time lining up harmonically interesting sound sources instead.

Quote:
I just put it on every track. I get a feeling I shouldn't
I would say trust that feeling. I would say to always be suspicious of the idea that there is anything that you are "supposed to" put on every track. Try putting it on no tracks for a few mixes. Get used to what that sounds like. Then add it here and there and maybe the nature of the effect will be easier to spot.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
Here for the gear
 

Distortion/saturation tools are all very different, so it's hard to say what it distortion will sound like generally. But it will typically add harmonics somewhere, and also typically compress, including compressing transients.

So if you think about harmonics being added, that often results in subtle brightening depending which harmonics are being generated, before your brain recognizes something you consider "distorted".

Same for the compression - the dynamic envelope can shrink very subtly before you recognized the sound is compressed.

One thing this means is, it can be dangerous to add a lot throughout your mixes if you can't tell/aren't familiar with what your particular saturation/distortion unit is doing, because as the tracks add up you may shift a lot of your mix's sound in ways you didn't intend, and then have a hard time figuring out why.

I'd do a few things - one is, start turning them off and on in your existing mix and see what you can hear changing, particularly in harmonics and compression. then crank the value higher to exaggerate it, and do it all again.

Then see which tracks it's helping on to various degrees IN THE MIX.

For instance you could destroy your snare and it sounds awesome, but then in the mix it might have stopped poking through. Or maybe it sounds better now because the transient is more controlled and the hit is brighter and longer. Maybe your vocal took on a nice subtle sheen, or maybe you lost some of the beautiful character and depth your nice mic and pre gave you.

Again though keep your whole mix in mind, because it can be subtle per track but add up fast in a mix, especially if you're using the same product on all your tracks. Your whole mix can start to take on the character of your distortion unit. And more than anything - keep demoing with/without, and make sure your tracks are actually sounding better with it on.
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