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Modern digital production has ushered in an era of extreme sonic brightness that producers of yesteryear couldn’t possibly have imagined. Part of this is down to the increased fidelity and dynamic range of modern equipment, coupled with the tools to boost frequencies with far more precision and power than ever before.
The other reason is sonic one-upmanship, whereby as one track gets brighter, the next has to at least match it or risk sounding dull by comparison. The effect on the industry has been a veritable snowballing of top end as each track is mixed to stand out from the crowd, and making the track brighter is an easy and obvious way to achieve this. And in an era where more people are mixing more tunes for release, with more powerful tools than ever before, some of the more subtle craft of the best mixing engineers has been shouted down.
But among those at the top end of the profession there is the realisation that brightness can be taken too far, and that you can’t just make every part in a mix brighter without making the overall mix much more harsh. Fortunately, there are various other ways to give a channel that sonic edge that cuts through a mix but which don’t necessarily add huge amounts of bright and harsh top end.
One of the oldest, and the best, is our old friend distortion, which is of course most commonly associated with guitar parts. The distinct harmonics of distortion give these sounds an edge (subtle or obvious) that sets them apart from others - and in this age of technological marvels, digital bitcrushers can impart a similar edge without producing that tell-tale thrasher sound. Let’s have a look at the best ways of getting this done…
For a comprehensive selection of effects tutorials and techniques, check out Computer Music Special: Effects (issue 47) which is on sale now.