How to use Parallel Compression on Drums

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parallel compression

Parallel compression is a great way to add thickness, punch, and more excitement to any type of track.

This technique is used by some of the biggest mix engineers in the industry like Michael Brauer and Jaycen Joshua. I was reading a sound on sound article about parallel compression and saw this quote by Jaycen Joshua:
“If you don’t use parallel compression you risk things sounding thin. You begin with the original track that the producer loves, and if you manipulate that you may deviate too much from it, whereas if you blend a treatment in, it will be more pleasing to the ear.”
What he means is, a lot of the times mixers get a demo from the artist and their producer which usually is pretty close to the sound they want put out to the public. It’s the mixers job to then take the demo to the next level without killing the vibe and original feel the song already has.
That can probably be pretty intimidating because at that level, you are pretty much told to make it better, but don’t f$&K it up!
So what parallel compression allows you to do is take the original tracks, say drums for instance, treat those original tracks with normal EQ and compression or whatever you want, but then send a copy of the original tracks to another track where you can really add some heavy compression and effects.
Then you can blend the original track with the heavily effected track and get a nice thick, exciting result which is pleasant to the ears.

Make me Dance

For me, I like drums that make me move. I love powerful drums that just hit you in your chest. Obviously not every song and style calls for that type of feel, but when it does I get really excited about mixing it.
I’ll start out pretty much every mix with drums because I believe you need to build a foundation for the rest of the song to sit on. Without that foundation everything seems to fall apart and be all over the place.
Typically I’ll go in this order, Drums, then bass, then vocals. Then I’ll decide whats the most important element that should come next in line and keep that pattern until all the instruments are in.
So for drums, I’ll get the initial balance using just fader volume and pan knobs. Then I’ll EQ each track followed by some light compression. My goal is to keep the initial transients of the drums in tact and not squashed to all hell, so that the drums feel alive but not overly compressed. I want a real nice natural sounding drum performance.
Hopefully you or the tracking engineer did a good job with recording the tracks which can make your life A LOT easier. That’s a whole other article.
Once I have that bad ass drum balance and everything is grooving, then I’ll start setting up my parallel compression track.
Quick tip: When mixing drums, or any song for that matter, try mixing at low volumes. If you can make your drums punchy and exciting at low volumes, they will sound killer when turned up.

Setting up the Smack Down

The way I set up the parallel compression track in Protools is by creating 1 stereo auxiliary track. I set the output of this new track to my master fader where all the rest of the drums are going out of.
I set the input of this new track to a bus that is available, then rename that bus “drum P” or “smack” or whatever you want so you can know that’s your drum parallel compression track.
Then I will go to my original drum tracks, Kick, Snare, toms, etc etc.. and from each of these tracks, send a copy of them to that new parallel drum track you created and titled.
You want to set those sends to pre fader, and put them at unity gain. Pre fader meaning an unaffected signal is sending to this new track, because you will be putting new compression effects on the parallel track once they are sent to it.
You with me!?
I do not typically send Over head or room mics to this new parallel track, because I don’t want the cymbals getting all washed out and weird. I typically just send Kick, snare, and any toms that are available. I just want the punch of the drums.
Once they are all sent to this new track, I will put a compressor on the new parallel track and compress the crap out of it. Super high ratio, like 8:1 or higher. you can even go as high as 20:1 or 40:1 ratio. I mess around with the attack and release settings until I get the sound I want which is a punchy pumping kind of sound.
I lower the threshold until I’m getting like -10 or more, sometimes a lot more, dbs of gain reduction. The key here is to go crazy!
Don’t worry, you are not going to have this track in solo, unless you use it for an intended effect on a part of a song. Your call.

Blend it up

Once you have your parallel compression drum track set up, then pull that fader all the way down to where you can’t hear it. Start playing a section of your original drum tracks, and then slowly start pushing up the new parallel track’s fader until you start hearing the punch of the kick and snare.
You can go overboard really quickly so blend to taste and use your best judgement on how much of the effect you want.
The result should be a thicker Kick, snare, and tom performance with more punch and energy. It just adds life to the drum tracks.
Setting up parallel compression on drums is really that easy. You can use this technique on ANY instrument including vocals, bass, electric guitars, whatever!
I shot a video and posted it below so you could see and hear how I set this up on my drum tracks. Take a watch and comment below if you have any questions, or if you use parallel compression in a cool way that you would like to share.
Have fun!

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  1. Pingback: 4 Reasons For Mixing At Lower Volumes - The Recording Solution

  2. Pingback: Mixing Bass Guitar To Poke Out In The Mix - The Recording Solution

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