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I read in a fairly recent Sound on Sound article (which, for the life of me, I can't find) of a mix engineer who uses overdrive instead of reverb to create depth, and he said it was an oldschool technique. For the life of me, I can't figure out how he does that, and without references to music that the technique was used on to try and figure it out.

Have any of you heard of this technique, or used it? If so... how does it work?

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The engineer is Tchad Blake. He is a master of creating a mix with depth and space without using artificial reverb. He was an early proponent of a hardware rack unit called a SansAmp, which is now modeled as a plugin. Here's a simple trick that I learned after reading an article from him. Take a kickdrum, bus it to an aux, add distortion to the aux, flip the phase of the aux and blend it with the original signal. It creates a deeper, rounder kick.

He's also a master at using compression, often to the point of pumping and distortion, to bring things forward in the mix.

Not sure how relevant this type of mixing/question is to sound design...I find myself playing with tube gear, overdrive, amps etc, more when I'm doing music mixing. I strive more for creating organic/natural sounds when doing sound design...even for tweaky science fiction stuff. Although a little overdrive here and there on a dense fx mix might make some fx cut...explosions for example.

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  • @Justin - not sure if it relates to SD either, but what a great answer! Thanks! – Steve Urban Aug 11 '10 at 2:04
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    This technique definitely applies to sound design! I plan on trying it immediately. – Jay Jennings Aug 11 '10 at 6:41
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I use Distortion on SFX quite regularly, especially weapons and explosions - although I just recently used it on an alarm effect to really push it over the edge while staying inside broadcast levels. One of the effects of distortion is it acts like extreme compression/limiting, so it will do all sorts of interesting things to the already existing ambience of an effect - to me it always seems to push the sound forward. I usually find that mixing a distorted copy with the original to be most effective.

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