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.