Pro Audio Files

How to Enhance Drums with Parallel Distortion


I have a set of drum files, and they’re all routed. I’ve got two overheads, a drum room, sort of this weird little strange PV90 tape recorder capture thing, a snare and a kick. They’re all coming into this main subgroup right here, which I have labeled ‘drum main’. And then, they’re all going to a sum channel as well. They’re all coming into this drum main. They’re all being funneled directly from the channel outputs, going right into here.

Now, back in the day, I might have done any kind of parallel processing that I would wanna do, simply by making a copy of the main track using the same input, the drum main input, and doing whatever parallel processing I wanted to do on that. Well, the pro to that is that, usually the balances that are coming into your main drum mix are going to be, basically, the same balances that you wanna affect. However, sometimes, you might want to actually change the balances around, and that’s what I’m going to show you. I’m going to show you some of the benefits and how it can be done, and why.

Let’s play just the drum track. I did very minimal treatment, but a little bit, just to kind of clean it a little.

[music + drums]

It sounds good. It’s a good-sounding drum track. Pulling up this Clariphonic here, just to give it a little bit more pop.

[music + drums]

The overall sound, though, is a little thin. There’s a lot of ways that you can approach a thin sound. I could EQ up some low mids, I could do some kind of a parallel compression, I could use some kind of a low-end enhancer or something, or I can do parallel distortion. In this case, I’m opting for parallel distortion because not only am I going to be able to use it to put some weight and some gruffness into the drum sound, but it’s also going to give it a little bit of character.

Here I have my set-up where I have this main distorted, and it’s coming in from the drum mains, so it’s the exact same balance that’s coming down the pipeline. I’ve got Decapitator on there. I don’t have the Clariphonic, because what I want is, I want something weighty and dark. I’ve got the ‘N’ setting on the Decapitator. I’ve got the tone tuned a little to the left here, toward the darker side. The dark side. The drive is way up. Now remember, I’m doing this in parallel, so having the drive pretty heavy is okay, because I’m going to blend it back in how I’m going to blend it back in. But here’s what I’m blending back in with this.

There’s an example of using parallel distortion to fatten up the drum sound right there. Now, what I might want to do is sort of reconfigure what’s feeding the distortion. Here, I have this P-distorted, parallel distorted, and it’s coming from my drum comp send.

What I’ve done differently is, you can see here I’ve got the overheads. They’re the same, they’re set to zero, they’re panned the same way. I’ve got my drum room the same, and then I’ve got my snare. I’m adding a little bit more snare into the drum distortion. I’m taking out this strange auxiliary microphone thing. It’s still in there a little bit, but it’s in there a lot less, and I’m adding a whole bunch of kick drum.


Here’s what the main balances sounded like through the distortion.


That’s why you might want to do that. Now, the confusing part of the article was when I sort of mentioned — and I shouldn’t have jammed this into one idea. I mentioned that you want to be careful when you’re doing complex routing, especially when you have a lot of plugins going on and things like that. Because I’ve noticed in my own experience that sometimes, pro tools in particular, the aux sends will not line up in time. Your parallel channel and your main output channel might come in a little bit out of time, and what will happen is, a phasing will start to occur. What I really should have said is, just listen to make sure that that’s not happening. In this particular case, using both the outputs and the aux sends I’m not getting that. And I tested it using a null test just beforehand, just to make sure, but my ear told me that I wasn’t getting it anyway.

If you are getting it, reconfiguring things so that instead of going through the channel outputs, but instead going through a similar output, like an aux send, will alleviate that problem. Your DAW might be able to do multiple channel outputs.

But what the bottom line of that was, just be careful and really listen for your phase interaction between parallel aux sends. Because it can get messed up.

Now I’ve shown you what I was doing, and I hope that you take it and go distort your drums and make it sound awesome.


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:

Free Video on Mixing Low End

Download a FREE 40-minute tutorial from Matthew Weiss on mixing low end.

Powered by ConvertKit
Recommended Courses