Two “Secrets” to Effective Parallel Compression

Hi, this is Justin from Sonic Scoop, coming at you from Joe Lambert Mastering.

Today I want to talk to you about two secrets around parallel compression that can help dramatically improve your results.

Chances are if you’re already checking something out in Sonic Scoop, you already know what parallel compression is. Taking one track and then duplicating that track or routing it so that you have a copy of that track that you’re applying really heavy compression to, and then folding that compressed track in underneath your uncompressed track.

But there are two different things that you may or may not be doing with your parallel compressed tracks, and if you’re not doing them, it defeats the whole purpose of parallel compression.

Those two things are one, using a really fast attack time, and two, using a LOT of bass and treble boost, and I mean really fast, and I mean a lot of boost.

Don’t be shy.

Now there’s a very particular reason for this. If you don’t do this, you’re kind of defeating the purpose of parallel compression, you’re kind of side-stepping the main benefits, and the main benefits of parallel compression, especially on one of the most popular application, like a drum buss, is to make sure that you’re getting a lot of extra impact, a lot of extra energy, a lot of extra kind of bombast and power, but without taking up too much extra space in the mix.

If you do these two things, you will establish a nice floor, and a nice ceiling to your sound, and you’re going to put in a kind of low end consistent floor on say, your kick drum, and a consistent amount of kind of air and shine and sparkle on top of things without it ever getting kind of too edgy, too harsh, too boomy, without taking up too much space.

You do this by using really fast attack time, and by doing significant boosts in the lows and highs.

Think about it this way. You’re using a fast, fast attack time so that you can chop off all of the transients. This way, you have a super consistent kick drum, and super consistent cymbal crashes.

So on this parallel compressed track, you’re trying to get rid of the dynamics so every kick hit that comes in is steady, providing you with a kind of real floor. Then to make things even better, you want to put a big boost on the low end, so that you have a really consistent, full body floor, and you can just tuck in a little bit of this floor underneath. You don’t need much at all once you’ve done some significant low end boost and you make sure that the attacks of each hit are really consistent.

The same thing happens with your cymbals. You want to make sure that you can add kind of sparkle and shine without a lot of harsh edge and a kind of sibilant sound coming from these cymbals, so you want to kind of really tame this attack, boost the high end so it has a decent amount of kind of glitter and shine, and then you’re bringing these things up very subtly under your uncompressed track.

It’s not going to take up much energy in the mix at all, but it’ll give you some real kind of power and bombast, while still retaining the kind of natural, organic, dynamic transient feel of the main track, which is going to be dominant.

And the ratio here — it’s not like, one to one, it’s not even like two to one. I mean, it is just a little bit of this compressed track that you need to add in to really get those actual results, as long as you’re using super fast attack time and healthy bass and treble boosts.

If you don’t do this, you side-step the whole point of parallel compression. If you’re setting a really slow attack time, you’re actually going to accentuate the transients. You’re going to let even more transient information get through.

You’re not really going to have any consistency on the initial attack portion of each hit. If anything, you’re going to be kind of almost accentuating some of the dynamics that are already there on the initial hits.

So if you want your hits to be consistent, you want a fast attack time. If you want a nice, stable floor, and a nice, clean ceiling, you want to make sure that you’re doing significant boosts to the low end and the high end.

If you do those two things with parallel compression, you’re going to get a lot of great results. If you don’t, and you use a slow attack time, if you keep a more mid-rangey sound, you’re not really adding anything new or interesting or accentuating anything that’s not there enough already.

Your drum kit, chances are already has plenty of mid-range. Your natural drum performance, chances are already has plenty of transients. You can keep your natural, organic dynamic feel while adding some power and consistency, a nice floor, and a nice ceiling. You can do that without having to over boost your kick drum, over boost your cymbals, which is something I get sometimes in the mastering studio.

Mixes where the kick drum is boosted a little bit too much for its own good, the cymbals are boosted a little too much for their own good. If you want that kind of power and impact and consistency out of your drum kit, you can get that by doing parallel compression, really fast attack, and a good, healthy boost of the lows and highs, folding in just a little bit of that.

Well, I hope you found this quick tip helpful. This has been Justin Colletti for Sonic Scoop at Joe Lambert Mastering, and remember, subscribe here on YouTube, go to SonicScoop.com, subscribe to the newsletter there, you’ll get producer/engineer interviews, studio tours, gear reviews, tips and tutorials, deals, giveaways on audio gear, plus information about new products we have coming out, and new seminars that will help you kind of next level your audio skills and take your audio game from where it is now to where you want it to be.

Thanks again for hanging out with me on the Sonic Scoop video blog. This has been Justin Colletti for Sonic Scoop. See you next time!

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  • Kyle Fredrickson

    The one issue I have with this is that adding EQ to the compressed signal will cause phase shift, and thus some amount of cancellation when the signals are added together because they are no longer temporally identical. Granted, the compressed signal added in is pretty low compared to the original track, so in practice the overall benefits of the technique in most circumstances outweigh the cancellation. Figured it was worth bringing this point up to see how other people feel about this!

  • Andy McDearmon

    I always get the results I am looking for without adding anything on the EQ.

  • Patrick H

    You might want to explain further the reason for your eq boosts. This video is extremely redundant

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