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Make Better Drums: Parallel Compression

Firstly, let’s take a step back and ask: What is Compression?

Taken from Wikipedia:
Dynamic range compression... reduces the volume of loud sounds  or amplifies quiet sounds by narrowing or "compressing" an audio signal's dynamic range...

...Compression is often used in music production to make performances more consistent in dynamic range so that they "sit" in the mix of other instruments better and maintain consistent attention from the listener.  Vocal performances in rock ‘ n’ roll or pop music are usually compressed in order to make them stand out from the surrounding instruments and to add to the clarity of the vocal performance.

Compression can also be used on instrument sounds to create effects not primarily focused on boosting loudness.  For instance, drum and cymbal sounds tend to decay quickly, but a compressor can make the sound appear to have a more sustained tail.  Guitar sounds are often compressed in order to obtain a fuller, more sustained sound.
Just one example of how compression can be used goes something like this:

Imagine you are listening to a pop / rock song in your headphones.  The verses are quiet, all hell breaks loose in the chorus, then it’s back to a quiet verse.  Without compression, you would likely to be reaching for the ‘volume up’ during the verses and scrambling for the ‘volume down’ on the chorus.

A well produced song will still have a good dynamic range, but will be compressed in such a way so as to prevent you from having to constantly wrestle with the volume control.

Now, the negative aspects of too much compression can include: too little dynamic range / ‘clipping’, distortion and, in the case of vocals, nasty ‘artifacts’ appearing. 

Parallel compression is a technique often used to make a signal or track ‘punchier’, ‘beefier’, stand out more, etc, whilst maintaining a good dynamic range.  It is done as follows:
  • The beat maker or producer takes a signal / track, etc, and copies it.
  • The original signal / track is then left with no effects (referred to as ‘dry’)
  • The copy is compressed, subject to taste, style of music, etc.
  • This effected, ‘wet’, signal is then mixed in with the dry signal.  Often sitting ‘underneath’ the original or, as one writer beautifully put it: ‘turned up slowly until the point whereby it can just be heard, then turned down a little bit’.
Finally, if talk of ‘buses’ and ‘sends’ fill you with dread, fear not.  In REAPER, simply keep hold of ctrl and drag the track you wish to copy downward.  A new track will appear as if by magic.

Alternatively, use the toolbar options which work in this instance the same way as, say, a Word document. 

Recommended Viewing

Michael Chaveria, who has worked with artists including Erykah Badu and Jay Electronica, explains parallel compression well in the video below.  I highly recommend you check Michael Chaveria's youtube channel and site:

Regular readers will know I am a big fan of:  Here's parallel compression applied in a slightly different way.

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