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  • Writer's pictureRyahu

From Flat to Fantastic: Mastering the Art of Saturation and Distortion in Music Production

Are you a music producer desiring the warmest, biggest, juiciest sounds? I've got you covered, today let's learn something about saturation and distortion, the post processing that can bring to life dry or thin sounds and take your mix to the next level! There are many different plug ins to achieve this with, and it is best to have a variety that you are familiar with to be able to craft the perfect tone for any sound. Each different plug in will have it's own color palette that you can use to enhance your sounds.

Learning Your Tools

Familiarizing yourself with the different tools in your arsenal allows you to craft the perfect tone for any sound, each unit imparting its unique qualities. You can do a lot with the plug ins native to your DAW, so you don't have to go out and buy a bunch of third party plug ins. For example, in Ableton you have access to several saturation and distortion options within your DAW such as Saturator, Overdrive, Amp, Pedal, and Vinyl Distortion. Each one comes with several presets as well as parameters you can play with, so there is plenty to get familiar with and use to shape your sound.

If you are looking for something new and interesting, there are hundreds of great third party saturation VSTs that you can play with as well. Some of my favorites are Decapitator by SoundToys, Trash2 by IzoTope, Thermal by Output, Black Box by Plug In Alliance, and Character by Noveltech. Each one has a unique tone and character it creates when you use it, so when you are very familiar with your plug ins you will be able to know exactly what you want to reach for any time you want to add some depth and color to a sound.

What Is This Actually Doing?

While each saturation and distortion unit processes sound differently, their fundamental purpose is to enhance it by introducing harmonics - additional frequencies that impart depth and thickness. Visualizing this process can make it easier to understand; place an EQ with a visual spectrum after the saturation unit and observe the spectrum changes as you toggle the saturation on and off. Pay attention to any unintended frequencies, such as excess sub or harsh high-end, and consider using an EQ after saturation to refine the output.

Dial It In

Achieving the ideal balance is critical - and it's easy to miss the mark. If you overdo it with your saturation and distortion, you can quickly create a mess and destroy the sonic characteristics of your sound. On the other hand, if you are too careful, you might not push it to it's potential. Experiment by pushing the plug-in until it feels excessive, then dial it back just enough that it is not distracting from the big picture. Applying this method not only ensures optimal use but also helps determine if the tonality aligns perfectly with the sound you're sculpting.

Explore using this processing on busses or groups of sounds, adding a touch of saturation to glue together the sounds. Approach this with finesse on the master track, where a subtle touch can elevate your entire song. Striking this delicate balance can impart character to your music without overwhelming it.

Wrapping Up

Saturation and distortion are a great way to shape the soundscape of your music, making your sounds more full and glued together. Knowing the different tonalities of the tools you have at your disposal will allow you to apply the right processing at the right time, and creatively shape the tone of your sounds! It's definitely one of the most exciting parts of this craft in my opinion, so hopefully this got you a little more excited to go play with your plug ins. You can hear how I use these techniques in my own music at Ryahu for dance music and philip j loaf-eye for lo-fi music. Leave a comment down below if you enjoyed this post! That will help me know if I'm providing any value to you guys and if I should keep writing them! Until Next Time,


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