Pro Audio Files

5 Tips for Parallel Compression on the Whole Mix

We use parallel compression on drums. We use it on vocals. We use it on really anything and everything. So why not on the whole mix?

This is one of those processes that when done right works really well, and when done wrong sounds like crap.

The pros are that you can get a little bit of extra thickness, movement and color in a fairly transparent way.

The con is that it can be hard to tell if you are improving the sound or just making it louder. Set incorrectly you can “overfluff” the mix and lose punch.

Here are some keys to using parallel compression on the whole mix:

1. HPF sidechain

It generally helps to have the compressor react to the kick appropriately to its perceived volume, which is significantly less than its actual amplitude.

Try a compressor with an EQ’able sidechain and take out some of that low end.

2. Attack time

Set the attack time so that it’s fast, but not so fast that you are completely dulling the transients of the compressed signal.

You still want a little bit of attack on the parallel signal so that you don’t start dulling the mix as you blend it back in.

3. Release time

Time the release so that there’s still a bit of space/air in the parallel signal.

You don’t want your mix losing it’s openness for the sake of thickness.

If you can time the release just right you’ll get a perfect blend of open and thick.

4. Experiment

Experiment with different compressors. Individual compressors will handle this process differently.

It’s important to experiment with different compressors to get a sense of what you like.

5. Turn it off

Don’t be afraid to turn it off.

Sometimes you get to the end of a mix and it’s perfect without compression. That’s OK — there’s no need to force a process if it doesn’t really need it.

As they say, there are no rules when it comes to music. So rock on with experimenting, and comment below with your favorite compressors for a parallel mix buss chain!

Learn how to use dynamics processing like a pro in Mixing with Compression.

Matthew Weiss teaches you what it is, what it sounds like and how you can use compression to take your mixes to the next level. Check out the video below to learn more.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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  • Ricardo Fernandez

    Some time, I master my mixes using this technique; I duplicate the track and apply distortion so the duplicate track increase 4 to 6 db. Then send the original and the distorted duplicate to an aux track to start appling my processors (dyn & eq).
    Base on the type of music I can boost using a limiter/compressor for the sound integrity. (crowd mixes).

  • Jason Mythos

    Hello Matthew. I saw a post from Dan Comerchero on G+ and read your article. Had never used parallel compression to master an entire song before so I thought I would give it a go! It was tricky and took a lot of tweaking but the results were fantastic. The technique added a lot of body and some snap to the master were there was none before. Playing with the release settings helped a lot in preserving the dynamics in play from the original. I did find dropping the compressor from my master bus mastering chain helped. In turn I turned up the EQ output after removing the compressor and this helped avoid over compression and preserve sound quality. Great article thanks for sharing!

    • Matthew Weiss

      Hi Jason! The guy who hipped me to parallel compression as a mastering technique was Chris Athens (google if need be). He had this way of making everything in my mixes seem more “vivid” without actually changing the balances in any dramatic way. He said it was a combination of his EQ’ing (pretty obvious) and that he was sometimes using parallel compression on the master. So that set me off on my experimenting!

      Anyways, glad I could give you a bit of inspiration – and yeah – the release setting is really the crux of getting it right, I find.