Parallel Compression

After a class on the subject, I have discovered a new love within the mixing process. Most famously used with drums, parallel compression is a fantastic tool that usually involves mixing unprocessed information with heavily compressed signals. Also known as upward compression or New York trick, it brings out some of the weaker energy signals as opposed to reducing more transient signals. At the same time, signals with more attack are sustained whilst raising the level of quieter features. It is often referred as ‘NY‘ compression simply because mix engineers in 1980s New York began developing the technique.

You can achieve this kind of effect in Pro Tools by the following steps:

  • Create two stereo Aux Input tracks and name appropriately to distinguish them i.e. DRUM SUB, NY SUB
  • Solo Safe these Auxes [COMMAND + CLICK] so they don’t interfere when you’re soloing separate tracks
  • Select these Aux tracks’ inputs to available stereo buses i.e. Bus 1-2 and rename them as above
  • Select all drum tracks and change their outputs to DRUM SUB (Bus 1-2)*
  • Decide which tracks you’d like to send to the parallel compression bus. Send them to the NY SUB via Sends until your mix window looks like this:

  • Remember to bring up the faders of all selected Sends and select PRE for pre-fade*. This will ensure your signals are feeding regardless of the track’s main fader position

  • Add a compressor to your NY SUB track and to notice immediate effect, draw the threshold fully back and mash the ratio and make-up gain straight up (NOTE: Increase the gain gradually if you’re already playing back. Don’t whack it straight up then play, or you may become infertile)

  • To avoid possible phasing issues before mixing in your NY SUB, ensure Delay Compensation is active in the Options menu

  • Play your tracks back using your DRUM SUB submix. Begin to bring up the fader of your NY SUB track with compression applied. Notice the difference in sound as you introduce this. Mute the DRUM SUB track to hear more clearly what the compression is doing to the same signal.

The mix you aim for is entirely subjective, however you must experiment by ear to achieve a suitable balance of original and compressed signals. It’s very much about:

  • Adding a suitable amount of the compressed track – Too much can sound unnatural and gimmicky
  • Selecting what drum tracks you want involved – You may find you like the effect on the hats and overheads, however not the snare and room mic.
  • Setting the compressor  itself – Play around with the ratio, attack and release as the ‘thrash the pants off’ approach may not appeal to the type of recording

*Hold [OPTION + SHIFT + CLICK] when delegating outputs/zeroing faders/enabling pre-fade. It’s the ‘do to selected‘ shortcut and will save you a lot of time.

I really enjoy experimenting this technique because in the past I have often struggled to create dynamically impacting drum mixes. Using  it helps to fatten the sound of drums (or bass or vocals), adding more interesting sonic content. Being a big fan of pumping (jokes aside) in dance and rock music, I particularly like the effect parallel compression has to offer.

Here are some prepared examples of using varied amounts of parallel compression:

Original dry signal:

Original dry signal mixed with a healthy amount of NY:

Original dry signal mixed with an insane amount of NY:

Leaving that drum take unmixed and pushing all the tracks in to the NY bus has made me realise a few things. The spills from mic-to-mic had horrible consequences when using the NY compression. It made it sound very crowded and undefined. By separating some tracks into their own NY buses, you can have more control over the sound each grouping makes. Even by using a mixed product, EQing some of the compressed sounds i.e. snare rumble can clean up the mix greatly. Finally, not all drum tracks need to be used when applying NY compression. Be selective and find out what works best for you.

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