Mastering Spotlight: The Power of Distortion

Hey folks,

I had a very fun and interesting session recently, mastering a Trap/Future Bass track with a very talented local Freiburg artist.
The process was very exciting, because there wasn't really anything to "fix" in the mix and we were able to be very creative with our processing.
One of the complaints that the artist had was that the track sounded a little "lifeless". It needed something exciting and moving.
Usually whenever I hear or think that I immediately check the frequency spectrum, because a lot of the time, "lifeless" means a lack of a certain frequency range or a slightly whacky balance overall. People also use "flat" as word to describe that.
Electronic productions rarely lack bass and treble frequencies. What I experienced though is that quite a few electronic productions come in kind of a "bathtub" shape. Lots of bass, lots of treble but a little lacking in the middle. Fixing that usually does the job in terms of giving "life" to the track.
However, we wanted to take it a step further.
Something I experimented with when I started using analog gear is how far you can push it. It seems to have a different sonic response in extreme settings than in subtle settings. Doing that, I also found something very interesting with the A/D conversion. The distortion created by my A/D converter when I clip the input actually sounds very interesting. It's not the kind of distortion that a straight digital >0dbFS clip gives you. It's much smoother, much more usable.
So with this track, I decided to give it a try to add quite some edge and excitement to the overall sound. You have to be careful doing that though, it can go south pretty quickly.
The extra distortion worked like a treat. It added a lot of dirt to the heavy transients, making them very exciting and more present and it increased the density in the mix.
It's interesting that something with a negative connotation like "clipping" or "distortion" can yield such wonderful results.
We all were quite happy with the final master.