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Parallel compression: Finding excitement in the lower levels

The ear and brain pay much more attention to high-level sounds than low. So if you can bring up the low levels you might find a new source of excitement in your audio.

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If you have ever heard drums played live, purely acoustically from a close listening position, then you will know how exciting they can sound. But when those drums are recorded and played back through loudspeakers, a lot of the excitement can be lost.

The plain fact is that drums are LOUD, even when the drummer tries to play quietly. If you want to attempt to reproduce the level of a drum kit through speakers, then you had better have a big amplifier. A really big one. And big speakers too.

For most practical purposes, recorded drums are normally played back at a volume that is a lot lower than real life. So although the 'hit' component of the various drum and cymbal sounds comes through fine, the lower levels, such as the shell resonances, are somewhat lost in comparison.

One solution to this is to use parallel compression. Here is one way to do it...

Mix the drums as normal, the way you like to hear them. Then create a new stereo aux track. Use post-fade auxiliary sends in all of the drum tracks with the send fader set to 0 dB so that an identical copy of the drum mix is sent to this aux track.

Insert a compressor into the aux track and compress the drums heavily - much more than you would do for normal compression.

Mix this compressed version with your normal mix of the drums. You have now achieved parallel compression, and the result should already sound more exciting. You can experiment with the compression settings, and the level at which you mix in the aux track.

One thing to watch out for however is whether the compressor plug-in adds any delay to the aux track. With a modern DAW that compensates for latency in plug-ins, this should not be a problem, but it is best to check. You can do this by setting a very high threshold on the compressor, so that there is no compression going on, even though the compressor is inserted and not bypassed. When you mix this in with the unprocessed signal, you should hear the volume change, but not the character of the sound.

Happy parallel compressing!

By David Mellor Monday March 12, 2012
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