Distortion has recently become yet another eye opener for me.
There are all types of distortion ranging from extremely subtle to ear bleeding naRsty!
I think most folks would immediately associate distortion with electric guitar amps/pedals, but here I’m speaking of using mild distortion on any and everything in a recording or a mix.
Distortion is in everything we hear whether we like it or not. You can have the cleanest mic and mic pre with the most pristine AD converters known to man, but just about anything can impact or distort the original signal (Air temp, voltage sag, impurity in the cabling, sound pressure hitting the capsule at different frequencies etc). Then there’s distortion after the fact (DA conversion, cabling, voltage, speakers, the cabinets the speakers are in, the temps again, sound bouncing off of who knows what). None of this takes into account the distortions introduced at the source be it acoustic or electric.
I’ve started adding distortion on different sources. There’s really no rules. I’ve used it on drums, guitars, vocals, bass, synths etc. Sometimes I use plugins like the SansAmp PSA-1 that comes with Pro Tools. Lately, I’ve been using the Decapitator from Soundtoys which can really transform the sound of the source. It can alter things so drastically that you don’t need an EQ.
It doesn’t stop there. I’ve reamped sources using amp modellers or even put them into a real amp and mic’d the cabinet (We put a digital organ simulation through a Mesa LoneStar head and into my Little Lannelei spinning speaker and mic’d it with a couple of SM – 57’s). You can run plugins to an aux for parallel processing which gives you better control over how much is blended in with the original.
Distortion is like any other ingredient. Add to taste. It doesn’t have to be death metal distortion of destruction distortion (though ruling that out isn’t something I would do).
A lot of the sought after vintage mic pres, eq’s and compressors are what folks refer to as colored (that’s just another way of saying distortion).
Tubes, Transformers, Transistors, Resistors, solder joints can all add something to the signal. The trick is to not get too crazy with it. Then again… Rules are meant to be broken.
Another eureka moment by doing the opposite of what I felt was the right thing.
I was recording a demo of a tune using programmed drums with soft synth plugs as bass and synth parts with a bunch of guitar parts layered.
There’s a main chorus lead that I really like, but I couldn’t get the tone I wanted. I was using my Mesa Mark V.
All along I was pushing the gain and found that drastically cutting the gain was what I actually needed to do.
I decided to ditch the channel 3 Mark IV mode and went to channel 2 on the crunch setting (AC-30 esque) with a slightly mid-gain setting. I did add my Analog.man King of Tone pedal, but only added the boost side.
It was much clearer and was the tone I wanted.
I also found that recording the leads dry and adding effects later improved my timing.
That took me out of my comfort zone as I react to what I’m playing/feeling and without the effects, I feel like I’m missing half of the equation.
It went fine even though it is difficult to imagine the sounds I’ll be getting later. Dry tracking does afford you more control (and punch-ins are easier and more manageable *if needed).
When you’re not getting what you want; step back and consider doing the opposite of what you think is correct. It’s possibly you won’t get what you want, but it’s also possible that you’ll discover something new and different (if not exactly what you wanted to begin with).
Try another guitar, amp, mic, mic placement, turn the volume or tone knobs. <- all easy stuff.
I’ve had dual monitors for some time now both here in the studio and at my real job.
It takes a while to get used to a few things, but having one screen dedicated to the DAW and one where you can park the plug-ins is invaluable to me for a few reasons:
1. It’s much easier to organize and see what’s going on.
2. I have the monitor dedicated to plugins off to my right side. I think I am tending to mix less with my eyes and more with my ears.
3. The plug-ins no longer cover up my edit or my mixer views.
I don’t endorse any products at the moment.
That said, I finally broke down and got the FabFilter Pro Q2 plugin (it was on sale) on almost word of mouth (typing) alone. After a few weeks of messing around and mixing with it, I’ve realized that it really is the only EQ I need for mixing.
I’m a recent proponent of less is more. I’ve ditched a lot of plugins and let licenses/upgrade opportunities expire over the last few years. I still feel like I have a lot.
For example, a list of my current EQ plugs:
Waves – Puig Tec
McDSP – 6020
McDSP – Filterbank
Built in ProTools EQ’s
They’re all fine and have their strengths. I’ll keep them around for flavor/etc, but the FabFilter Pro Q 2 just seems to get me where I want go to in much shorter amount of time. It also has some very valuable tools that the others simply don’t.
It makes me wonder if their Pro C compressor is as good. I have read/seen positive stuff on their Gate plugin.
I’ve recently begun using high and low-pass filters with fairly good results.
I’ve read articles and seen numberous videos where folks say: low cut everything aside from the kick and the bass guitar.
I’ve actually added minor low cuts to kick and bass too, but I am allowing the bass pedals full range for now (love those things).
The eye opener for me has been low-pass filters. You don’t need much, and it’s best to think about which instruments/sources really will benefit from the extended high-end range.
I’m generally shaving some off of the guitars, bass, and drum bus. It seems to clean things up as much as cutting some of the low-end mud does.
I don’t have vocals to deal with, so it should be easy.
I also have imported some reference material of music that I thought sounded good into my DAW. It was immediately apparent that I didn’t need as much of lows and highs that I had before.
I’d suggest using reference material if possible.
I’ve also become enamored with the idea of sound treatment. I feel like there are reflections bouncing around my meager basement studio, and that I’m not hearing some frequencies too well. I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated with my mixes, but I feel they could be better (even though they have improved over time with experience).
The space I’m using is unfinished and large, with insulation on the walls covered with white plastic *pictured above. Though the room isn’t as live as one would think.
I wonder if making some gobos (Roxul/OC 703) and a booth/closet for cabs and recording acoustic guitars and such wouldn’t help things??
The price for Roxul/OC 703 doesn’t bother me. It’s the shipping that has me concerned. It adds at least a third to the cost. The stuff must be heavy.
Perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse and simply need to get a permit and build some walls, then add the treatment.
I don’t think I have the space or the know how to truly get a control room that is separate from the live/performance room.
That coupled with the fact that I really only record my own stuff/band. The recordings we do are mainly set and forget. I set everything up, get levels and press record.
I’d love to work with other artists/bands, but am reluctant to allow strangers in my house to see all of the gear we have.