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Distortion For a Better Mix

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Many of you have asked about mixing tips. Now it’s time for the first tip, how to use distortion to improve your mix. Loundes war in the last few years is changing the way of mixing. All of us should be aware that a form of mixing has changed a lot in the previous years, and many techniques that have been used in the past for different genres will not work while mixing Electronic Music. Many of you have heard about many techniques that tell that we should keep dynamic of the tracks, but most of those techniques cannot be implemented for EM (Electronic Music), and especially not for psytrance. Psytrance has really loud Kick and Bass that are going through 70% of the track, and this is the main idea of psytrance, to be loud and to “rock” all the time using a lot of power and delivering a lot of energy to the dance-floor. Now, we all want our tracks to be powerful, fat, and loud. The only dynamic that we have in our music is the difference between intro, breaks, and the main part. In our main part, where kick and Bass are running, we cannot expect any dynamic, as those elements do not allow us. Kick is loud, Bass is loud, and there are usually three notes between two kicks, and there is no dynamic. So we are coming to the part where we call dynamic a difference between Peaks and Rms. To bring loudness, we need to bring RMS to the loudest point without destroying the Peaks, and this is where distortion can help us.

Some distortion plugins have a fantastic algorithm for “burning out” the peaks, which allows us to bring rms more loud. My two favorite plugins for that are FabFilter Saturn and SoundToys Decapticator.

While having mix coming to an end, I will always put a limiter on the master, and try to bring up the whole track to the desired level (my goal is -4rms). Using the FabFilters Pro-L2 (TP mode) I can see graphically how much of the peaks are going to be cut off from the limiter, and I will go back on the mix and try to fix samples that are hitting the limiter the most. Usually, Open Hat, Snare, and some pluck sounds are most problematic because they have loud transients, but there are few tricks and tips to avoid that. Loads of people use only the limiter on those channels to limit the peaks from that channel, and that technique works most the time, but sometimes those channels do not sound the same before and after the limiter. That’s when I always use mostly Saturn to burn up those peaks.

What you should do is to put Saturn on the desired channel. From the default preset, change the algorithm to (Saturn 1) “broken tube” or (Saturn 2) to “Warm Transformer”, and moving the Drive up to point where quality is almost the same. Then, check the sound’s change by looking at the peak meter, I almost always get 90% the same quality, but with peaks reduced for 3-4db. Putting all hihats with the snare on one group and putting the Saturn1 with “broken tube” or Saturn 2 on the “Warm Transformer” algorithm on that group is also one of the ways to check the results fast. Still, my advice is to go channel by channel and fix it with Saturn, as every stem will behave differently, and each stem needs a bit different “drive” settings in Saturn. Just by checking one by one, and looking at which of those stems are hitting the limiter, then processing it with Saturn usually saves me 3-4db pf peaks. An important thing to mention is that the “broken tube” and “warm transformer” algorithm will bring up low-end on the stem, and you can reduce that if you don’t like it by pulling down low-end fader in Saturn. Using Soundtoys Decapticator with the same technique is also the way, and i usually try both of them and keep the better results, and mostly Saturn does the job done.

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