As with most of my blog posts, this is an excerpt from a Facebook Group discussion. I responded to a “how much is too much distortion” question like this:
Creative distortion is essential in modern music, and the key I think is twofold, as long as the volume is reasonable: (a) the more distorted, the shorter we want to hear it and (b) if it is lowpass filtered we can tolerate it for longer periods of time.
So, bursts of “very short” white noise and overly distorted sounds can be cool as long as they are in context with other less distortedmusic.
Also, it’s typical for modern music to “distort” transients a few milliseconds at time but leave much of the rest of the mix “much less distorted”.
Here is a quick run-through of a synth arp many of us already own (from a popular sample instrument), first with various Kontakt “distortion” effects applied, then clippers and limiters turned up to 11, then bit crushers introducing piercing, annoying “distortion” … but even when pushed to white noise it could work for a tiny quick hi-hat like sound or a transient on top of something else, or before the piercing high end comes in it’s much more tolerable even when waaay over “distorted” with saturation and other effects.
In short, it’s not how distorted something gets; it’s how tastefully you choose to employ it!
WARNING! THIS AUDIO FILE GETS “LOUD”