What is distortion and how to use it in music production?

Distortion is a type of audio effect that deforms the sound, altering it in some way that can be sonically pleasing to the human ear. While EQ and compressors also alter the sound, distortion is one of those terms that you hear about when guitar players use distortion pedals, or when you have a rack mount unit with a distortion box that mangles the sound.

Types of Distortion Plugins

When it comes to distortion plugins, there are different types that you can use:


Tube distortion
Tube distortion plugins, like the Fab Filter Saturn, alter the harmonics of the sound by adding and altering even or odd harmonics. Odd harmonics will be at odd places, while even harmonics will be at even places. Tube distortion can be called Valve distortion as well.

Saturn, for example, adds odd harmonics by default. When you turn on the plugin, you’ll notice that it adds other tones and alters the sound. If you drive it further, you’ll see that it fills in the space with extra harmonics up the spectrum.

Tape Distortion
Tape distortion plugins, like the UAD Studer A800 emulation, emulate the tape saturation and distortion that you would get when recording to reel-to-reel tape.

Bit Reduction
Bit reduction actually reduces the bit depth to go the sound some bit reduction and character. You can easily reduce the bit rate with stock DAW plug-ins and get a very unique sound.

How to Use Distortion Creatively

Now that you know what distortion is and the different types of distortion plugins, you may be wondering how to use them creatively. Here are some tips:

You can use distortion to add character to your sound including warmth, depth, and texture to make your mix more interesting. For example, you can use distortion to add emphasis to a snare drum, making it punchier and more present in the mix. Or you might use distortion on a guitar sound to “dirty it up.”

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