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Unlocking the Power of Parallel Compression on Drums



Nicolas Johnson - Parallel Compression Drums

Are your drum tracks lacking punch and power? Do you want to learn a game-changing technique that can take your drum sound to the next level? If so, you're in the right place. In this comprehensive guide, we'll dive deep into the world of parallel compression on drums, a technique used by pros to add weight, impact, and intensity to their mixes. Whether you're a seasoned producer or just starting out, this article is worth reading to discover how to use parallel compression effectively on your drum tracks.



1. What is Parallel Compression on Drums?


Parallel compression, also known as New York compression, is a dynamic processing technique that involves blending a heavily compressed signal with the original dry signal. In the context of drum production, this means taking your raw drum sound and simultaneously applying a heavy dose of compression to it. The result is a sound that retains its natural transients and dynamics while gaining a powerful and punchy quality.



2. Why Use Parallel Compression on Drums?


You might wonder why bother with parallel compression when you can simply apply regular compression to your drum tracks. Here are a few compelling reasons:


  • Retain Dynamic Range: Regular compression can squash the dynamic range of your drums, making them sound lifeless. Parallel compression allows you to maintain the dynamic nuances of your performance while still adding intensity.

  • Add Punch and Impact: If you're looking for that massive, radio-ready drum sound, parallel compression is your secret weapon. It can make your drums cut through the mix and hit the listener right in the chest.

  • Shape the Sound: Parallel compression provides an opportunity to sculpt the sound of your drums in unique ways. You can experiment with different compression settings to achieve a wide range of textures.



3. Setting Up Parallel Compression: A Step-by-Step Guide


To get started with parallel compression on drums, follow these steps:


  • Create an Aux or Bus: In your DAW, set up an auxiliary channel or bus where you'll apply the parallel compression.

  • Route Your Drum Tracks: Send your individual drum tracks (kick, snare, toms, etc.) to this aux channel.

  • Insert a Compressor Plugin: On the aux channel, insert a compressor plugin of your choice. Many producers opt for classic compressors like the 1176 or LA-2A emulations but feel free to experiment.

  • Adjust Compression Settings: Dial in your compression settings. Start with a low threshold and a high ratio for a more aggressive effect.

  • Blend with Dry Signal: Use the aux channel's fader to control the blend between the heavily compressed signal and the dry drum sound. You can start with an equal mix and adjust as needed.



4. Understanding Compression Settings for Parallel Drum Compression


When applying parallel compression to your drums, consider these key compression settings:


  • Attack and Release Times: A fast attack time can emphasize transients, while a slower release time can smooth out the overall sound. Experiment with these settings to find the sweet spot for your mix.

  • Ratio Settings: A high compression ratio (e.g., 4:1 or higher) will yield more pronounced compression, while a lower ratio provides subtler compression.



5. Parallel Compression in Your DAW: Tips and Tricks


Different digital audio workstations (DAWs) offer various tools and workflows for parallel compression. Here are some DAW-specific tips:


  • Ableton Live: Utilize Ableton's audio effect racks to set up parallel compression easily. You can blend the compressed and dry signals within a single rack.

  • Pro Tools: Pro Tools users can create a parallel compression setup using auxiliary tracks and buses, similar to other DAWs.



6. Phase Considerations in Parallel Drum Compression


When blending the heavily compressed signal with the dry signal, pay attention to phase issues. Sometimes, extreme compression can introduce phase problems. To address this:


  • Use Phase Inversion: Some compressors have a phase inversion switch. Try flipping the phase on one of the signals to see if it improves the blend.

  • Check with Mono Compatibility: Listen to your mix in mono to ensure that phase issues don't cause cancellation or comb filtering.



7. Going Aggressive: Heavy Compression Techniques


If you're aiming for an aggressive, in-your-face drum sound, consider these techniques:


  • Extreme Compression: Push your compressor to its limits by using a high ratio, low threshold, and fast attack time.

  • Upward Compression: Instead of reducing peaks, upward compression boosts the quieter parts of your drum signal, adding sustain and energy.



8. Parallel Compression on Specific Drum Elements


You can apply parallel compression selectively to specific drum elements:


  • Kick and Snare: Enhance the impact and presence of your kick and snare drums for a tighter rhythm section.

  • Drum Bus: Apply parallel compression to the entire drum bus to glue the kit together and add cohesion.



9. Common Mistakes to Avoid with Parallel Compression


While parallel compression can work wonders for your drum sound, there are common pitfalls to watch out for:


  • Over-Compression: Don't go overboard with compression; it can kill the natural feel of your drums.

  • Ignoring Phase: Neglecting phase issues can result in a weaker mix. Always check your blend for phase coherence.



10. Experimentation and Finding Your Sound


In the world of music production, experimentation is key. What works for one track might not work for another. Don't be afraid to try different compressors, settings, and parallel compression styles to find what works best for your sound.


In conclusion, parallel compression on drums is a valuable tool that can transform your drum sound from ordinary to extraordinary. It allows you to maintain the dynamic range, add punch and impact, and shape the sound of your drums in creative ways.


By following the steps and tips outlined in this guide, you'll be well-equipped to use parallel compression effectively in your music production. So, start experimenting and see what works best for your tracks. Unlock the power of parallel compression and take your drum sound to new heights.


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