How To Use Parallel Compression Like A Grammy-Winning Mixer
Hey, my name is Jason Moss from BehindTheSpeakers.com, and today I’m going to show you how you can use parallel compression to supercharge your mixes, step by step.
First of all, what is parallel compression?
Quite simply, parallel compression is when you make a copy of a track, compress heavily, and then blend it in under the original track. Now you have the original track with no compression and the track with parallel compression playing together in some ratio.
What’s the benefit of this really?
Typical compression turns down the peaks. When the signal goes over the threshold, the compressor clamps down on it and brings those peaks down.
The way that parallel compression works, or the way that I think about parallel compression, is instead of turning down the peaks, parallel compression actually allows you to turn up the quieter parts in the signal. What you’re really doing is turning down those peaks in that duplicate track. What becomes louder is that low-level detail. Then you’re fading that into the original, while the peaks don’t get turned down because we have those from the original track itself, the one that isn’t compressed, we can fade in some of those low-level details on our parallel compressed track.
Let’s say you have a track in a mix where you really like the way it’s sitting. The transients sound great so you don’t want to change it too much, but you’re just missing some of that quieter, low-level detail. It seems like whenever there’s a quieter part in the performance, it just kind of gets lost in the mix. This is when parallel compression, I think can be really useful. Just duplicate the track, compress it heavily, and then fade in some of that parallel-compressed track. You’ll find that it’s gonna bring up or turn up those low-level details in the performance without changing dramatically the sound of the track itself. It can often be a much more transparent way to control and shape the dynamics of a track without really changing it all that much.
I want to give you three tips for using parallel compression so you can get the most out of it when you’re using it in your mix.
First is to beware of changes in volume.
Whenever you fade in your compressed track into the original, the whole thing is gonna get louder. To our ears louder always sounds better. Often times this can make it really difficult to determine whether or not the change that you made was actually making an improvement or it’s just making the whole thing louder.
When you’re comparing the track with parallel compression to the track without parallel compression, you want to make sure you’re always listening at an equal volume. This is one reason why I really prefer, when I am using parallel compression, I prefer to use a mix knob on the compressor. A mix knob will allow you to blend in some of the original track to the compressed track. The reason why this works really well is that you can adjust the level so that when you turn that mix knob there is no change in level. This makes it really easy to really quickly compare just the sound of the original track to the sound of the track with maybe some compression blended into it, without getting fooled by an increase in level.
The second tip is you want to always make sure to turn on delay compensation in your DAW.
Different plugins process audio at different speeds. One plugin might process a piece of sound very quickly…another might process it relatively slowly. The problem is when you have, let’s say an original track with no plugins on it, and then you duplicate that track and add a compressor. The audio goes through those two channels at different times. So it comes out on the end a little bit later on the compressed track. If you fold that into the original track or blend it in with the original, phase problems start to crop up because they’re not perfectly aligned. The compressed track is coming in just a hair later than the original. This can really mess with things. It can create low-end problems, comb filtering, all sorts of ugly stuff that you don’t want.
The solution to this is to always turn on delay compensation in your DAW. Essentially what this does is automatically compensates for all the different delays on your tracks. All the audio lines up perfectly regardless of how many plugins you’re using. This is gonna eliminate phase problems and comb filtering and all these ugly, nasty things that are gonna happen if you leave it off. Always keep it on, especially if you’re using parallel compression.
The third tip is to avoid what I call holy-grail thinking. Whenever we learn a new tip, or technique, or tool, or something, we tend to think that this is such an amazing thing that’s gonna make a massive difference in our mixes. We tend to overuse it. Parallel compression is probably one of the biggest culprits when it comes to this.
The truth is is that parallel compression is just one technique. It’s not the one thing that’s gonna take your mixes from good to great or salvage a horrible mix. It’s really just a tool. I know there are a lot of mixers that really love using it, but for me it tends to be more of a specialty technique. I don’t use it all that often.
Regardless of whether you choose to use it a lot or a little, the important thing is to put it in it’s place. Don’t think that this is the one thing that’s really gonna make that massive difference. There is no one thing. I mean mixing is a combination of thousands of little tiny decisions that we make that on their own really don’t make that much of a difference. In context they add up and they can really take a mix from sounding not very good to sounding amazing.
Again, avoid holy-grail thinking. Parallel compression isn’t the one thing. It’s just one of the things.
Now that you’ve got a pretty good idea of what parallel compression can do for your mixes, I want to show you how I approach using it in the mixing process.
This is a track called “One More Day” by Leah Capelle. Let’s take a listen to the chorus.
Throughout the mixing process, as I was getting towards the end of this mix, I kinda felt like we were missing some of those hits on the ride cymbal. I really like the overall balance of the drums. I didn’t feel like I wanted to turn up the overheads any more. I was missing those ghost notes and those hits on the ride that really propelled the track forward. Those were really important and I wanted to see if I could bring some of those hits out with parallel compression.
If you check this out here, the way I have these individual tracks in the drum kit set up is they’re all routed out bus 1-2, which is feeding into a drum sub. This is something that I had set up from the beginning of the mix. But towards the end of the mix I wanted to see if I could pull in a little bit of parallel compression.
Now what a lot of people will do is if they’ve already set up their routing like I’ve set this up where all of the drums are feeding to an aux, they’ll just duplicate that aux and then they’ll add the compression to that aux, and blend it under the original.
I actually prefer to set up an entirely new aux with a different bus and then send out of that bus on each of these individual tracks. The reason why is because often times heavy compression is gonna change the balance of the kit. Often times you want a different balance going into your parallel compressed track than you do on the regular aux that doesn’t have any of the compression on it. The disadvantage to just duplicating the aux that you’re using for your normal drum sub, is that you’re not going to be able to make changes to the balance that’s going into that compressor.
For example, often times with heavy compression on a drum sub, the kick is gonna get brought out. Almost to a point where it just sounds like it’s way too loud. By having these individual tracks sending out to the parallel-compressed aux, that will allow you to control the level that’s being sent on an individual track-by-track basis. You can see here I pulled down the kick 3db in the parallel compressed track because again, with parallel compression often times that kick gets brought out just way too much.
I want to go ahead and just solo the drums. I’m gonna turn off the music, and the vocals, and the bass here. Let’s just take a listen to the drums. Just without any parallel processing first.
Cool, and now let’s kick in the parallel compression.
This is with it out.
This is with it in.
You’re getting a little bit of a increase in level, so don’t be fooled by that level increase. Because obviously louder is gonna sound better, but what I am hearing is more cymbal. We’re hearing more of that low-level detail between the kick and the snare hits. Those individual ghost notes and subdivided hits on the ride cymbal are getting brought up. By bringing up those low-level details I’m actually creating a sound that’s gonna drive the track forward a little bit more because we’re going to hear those individual subdivisions a little bit more clearly in the mix.
Let me go ahead and unsolo everything. Let’s take a listen to this in context. First I want to play you this without any of the parallel processing.
This is the full mix with just the solo drum sub without any parallel processing.
This is with it in.
With it out.
With it in.
It’s subtle, but what I’m hearing is more of that ride cymbal. We’re hearing a little bit more of that subdivision that’s really moving the track forward. It feels like the track doesn’t drag as much. It has more movement.
To pull this off, all I did was add a compressor to this track. You can see. It’s pretty heavy compression—10 or more dB. I have a super-fast attack because I really don’t want any of the punch or impact on this track. I have that on the dry track. What I’m really looking to do is bring up the low-level detail on this track. I really don’t want any of the transient. I have a fast release because that way the compressor is gonna really just pull down the transients and bring up that low-level detail and a really high ratio.
Let’s take a listen to this track on it’s own. I just want to show you what this sounds like in solo because it’s quite aggressive.
This is the parallel compressed track on it’s own.
You can see it’s a really aggressive sound. This is obviously more compression than you would ever want to put across a drum sub, but by adding this to an aux track, then fading this in under the original drums, I get the benefit of both that dry sound with just a little bit more energy. That’s really gonna bring up a lot of that low-level detail like those cymbal hits, which are gonna move the track and drive the track forward.
If you’re looking to dive deeper with parallel compression. I put together a free PDF with five of my favorite plugins that I like to use when I apply parallel compression in my mixes. To download the free PDF, click the link in the description below or somewhere in the video.
I hope you found this helpful. You can check out more mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com Take care.
Video features music by Leah Capelle.