Stacking Distortions On Vocals: How & Why?
WE EXPERIMENT WITH HOW TO DISTORT VOCALS.
In this weeks blog we take a quick dip into Ableton's distortion FX, and how to distort vocals with them stacked up.
THE DIFFERENT DISTORTION TYPES
There are a lot of ways to distort sounds with Ableton. Not to mention the worlds of third party plugins, ranging from vintage distortion and saturation (Soundtoys 'Decapitator' or the Waves 'J37 Tape Machine', for example) through to those that are more modern & sound design driven (Outputs 'Thermal' or Waves 'Berzerk' are good choices!)
Here, we're looking at three stock Ableton FX: Overdrive, Pedal and Saturation.
Individually they all offer something unique; I've often through of Overdrive as the classic distortion sound with a very handy graphic EQ. Pedal offers many more distortion types (for this example we're using my favourite Fuzz). Saturation to me has always been the 'Analog' sounding distortion, that I associate with warmth and bite.
STACK THEM UP
In the clip we can hear the effect of all three distortion types on my voice. This is especially effective when we drop the output volume and push the effect levels to 100%. At a certain point, the dry vocal become unrecognisable as a voice and becomes its own sound entirely.
The rich harmonic content we gain from mixing up distortion type can be used to fill out mixes, beef up drums and give sub frequencies the clarity they need through smaller speakers.
A great example of creative, over-the-top distortion can be heard all over BJ Burton projects; the Charlie XCX track 'Forever', the entirety of the Low record 'HEY WHAT' and Bon Iver - '22, a million'.
LOW - DAYS LIKE THESE
BON IVER - 10 DEATHBREAST
SING LEAD LINES FOR EXTRA EXPRESSION
Feel like you want to add expression to your track but worried you're not the strongest singer? Transform it with distortion! As shown in the video, even with all the FX up to 100%, there is still performance and shape to the vocal line, even if it doesn't register as a vocal anymore. Let's explore that more by listening to the clean sound, and then each distortion type and how we can still 'feel' the performance even at the end of the chain:
Tip - Izotope Vocal Synth 2 is a plugin almost elusively designed for processing vocals, including distortion FX. Well worth checking out.
We can also more clearly hear how each distortion type is working here. Saturation is the most (to my ears) tonally rich, adding significant overtones to the mids. The Overdrive and Fuzz are closer in quality, with the Fuzz adding a little more bite and the Overdrive more top end!
If you want to get into the session in the video yourself, it's all available as part of our 'Electric Nights' pack.