New! Add Instant Grit To Your Tracks...

New! Add Instant Grit To Your Tracks…

August 29th 2015

Sometimes when you produce, you may feel like there is something missing in your song.
The depth in the elements may be great, and they may be as emotionally grabbing as they can be, and they may even sound very wide and nice. But there’s still something that isn’t right.  Then you suddenly realise it – some of your sounds… they sound too smooth, when they should sound a little more mean and nasty.

You grab a plugin and try to fix it, perhaps with a distortion plugin that you know sound a little more rough than the masses, but it may still not reach your goal.

Download Sample Packs From THE-One Series Here

So what do you do? Well, read on!

How it works: How your distorted element in a song will actually sound depends mostly on 2 aspects – the distortion shape, but also the tone of the sound going into the distortion sound.
For instance, if you have a heavy distortion plugin, and then you add an EQ before the distortion drive in the plugin chain – and then you do a larger boost in the upper midrange, the distorted sound will be very sharp and noisy, even if you compensate it with an EQ after the distortion plugin that cuts back in the same area.

And as you move the EQ bump further up or down, the distorted sound changes in character. Eventually when you reach deep down enough in the frequency range, the sound becomes what you call ”buzzy”.Distortion Tutorial

If you go even deeper than that, towards the rumbling subbass region, some interesting things starts to happen to some sounds (not all).

By either attenuating these low frequencies, or adding them artificially with a subsynth, combined with a distortion drive, you can pretty much mimic Amplitude Modulation.
This is because the oscillation cycles of these frequencies are so slow, that the behaviour of the other frequencies in the sound will follow its pattern when pushed inside a distortion drive. The lower the bass frequency is, the slower the rate of the ”modulation” is. So by adding this to a sound, you can quickly create some grit for it.

How to do it:

Now, let’s add this nice grit effect in steps. In this example I’ll use a basic clap sound.

    Add your clap sample, and your subsynth and route them to the same mixerchannel. Pick a CPU light synth as you don’t need to do anything fancy with it.
    Pitch down the synth until you reach the very low frequencies, and add some basic notes for the moment.
    Play the sounds together, and add the distortion. You don’t have to use much drive if you don’t want to, just make sure the bassline is booming loud if necessary and it should be enough with some gentle distortion. You should now hear the gritty effect.
    Highpass the sound to remove the bass frequencies. Be sure to use a steep cutoff slope to remove all unwanted rumble.
    Go to the subsynth and adjust the ADSR values, as well as the notelengths, so they match up with the duration and dynamic shape of the clap sample.
    Adjust the volume of the subsynth to adjust the ”modulation amount”. The same principle applies to the distortion drive – the more drive, the more ”modulation amount”, though here you will obviously add more distortion to the sound.
    If it’s a stereo sample that you use, use 2 oscillators in the subsynth and detune them, and pan them left and right. Otherwise the grit may only be heard in the mid-section of the sound, which sounds unpleasant on a stereo sound.
    Try different notes to find the ones that is perfect for your sound, see this as the ”modulation rate”. If you think the grit sounds too static, try some slight pitch bend on the subsynth.

Download Sample Packs From THE-One Series Here

Second approach:

If you don’t want to use a subsynth, you can stack 2 or 3 notches on an EQ on a desired frequency and boost them to the maximum. There is always some lowend noise on all raw samples (unless they’re processed to death), so with enough stacked notches you should be able to create a ringing subbass. Distortion Tutorial

However, this method is far more unstable than adding a subsynth as the bass rumble may continue even though the sample otherwise has reached silence, and with a distortion drive in the plugin chain this may cause a background humming sound.

Also, as you’re boosting noise, the rumble may fade in and out and simply be unreliable.

Doing it in the box: Many synths feature per-voice-distortion, meaning you distort every note separately despite playing a full chord, and not on a full polyphonic progression as it would with a distortion plugin in the mixerchannel chain. This can make a sound fatter, and is also another good way if you want to change the timbre of a sound.
Some synths even do this per unison voice when it’s a unisono sound.
One example of this is the Parabolic Shaper or Hardclipper, in Native Instrument’s Massive-synth.
By this, you’re actually able to create the same gritty effect in-the-box.

To do it inside the synth, simply use one of the oscillators as the subsynth we mentioned earlier, i.e a low sine wave a few octaves down.
Then you simply let all oscillators run into an instance of the Parabolic Shaper or the Hardclipper. Again, you don’t have to do use much drive if the subsynth is loud enough.

The pros of this method of adding grit:

    It’s efficient and fast

    You may expect similar results to many different types of sounds (= no surprises)

    It’s CPU light – if you use the right synth, and distortion + EQ plugin. If you want to save even more CPU, you can freeze the subsynth and use it as a sample instead.

The cons of this method:

    It changes the character. If you didn’t plan on adding any distortion to the original sound from the start, this may change how you need to approach the sound when mixing the song, etc. Not to mention that it may change the artistic character of the sound.
It may for instance change the dynamic shape of the sound, and if you have already added   compression settings to the sounds before you made this gritty effect… well good luck and have fun re-doing your compression.

Some final words:

While this is a great technique to have in the back of your head, I can’t guarantee that it will work for each and every type of sound.
Some sounds may be too rich further down in the frequency spectrum, and will only sound buzzy when you try to add this grit-effect. And some sounds may not respond that effectively as other sounds when you try adding this effect, you might have to completely destroy the sound with distortion for this gritty effect to become audible sometimes (pretty rare though).
The only sounds where I have used this technique so far is percussion, and synth sounds that don’t have too much going on in the low end.

Moving on, this technique should be viewed as a sound design technique – not a mixing technique or anything else. Doing this as a mixing solution may destroy your whole mixing for the sound in particular, and you may have to re-do your mixing on the sound.
I strongly advice you to carry out this technique before you start doing even the most basic mixing, while you still shape the sound.

Lastly, I have included a before and after audio example for this effect. First you will hear the raw clap sample, and then the same clap sample, but with the gritty effect applied to it using a subsynth + some very, very gentle distortion.
Note that this is just one possible out of many with this technique. How you set this effect up, as well as how you treat your sub-synth or notch boost will have a drastic effect on the end result.

Download Example File Here.

The End!

If you enjoyed this small tutorial, please go and subscribe to us in social media, and also check out our products here on

Download Sample Packs From THE-One Series Here

Get 10% off your
next order & access
to all free packs