Kim Lajoie's blog

Parallel Compression on the Whole Mix… why?

by Kim Lajoie on December 19, 2013

Well this is interesting:

We use parallel compression on drums. We use it on vocals. We use it on really anything and everything. So why not on the whole mix?

[…]

The pros are that you can get a little bit of extra thickness, movement and color in a fairly transparent way.

It looks like a decent list of tips. But, as someone who doesn’t use parallel compression on the mix bus, it doesn’t answer my first question: why?. The closest the post gets is the line a quoted above – “a little bit of extra thickness, movement and colour in a fairly transparent way”. That’s pretty vague though. There are so many ways to add thickness, movement and colour to a recording – at every stage from performance, instrument choice, mic technique, level, tone, dynamics, ambience, etc. What does parallel mix bus compression give me that’s different to everything else?

It’s an honest question.

I use parallel compression when I want to blend two versions of the same track with different processing and I want the blend balance to change depending on the dynamics of the recording. I’ve never found myself wanting to do that to a whole mix. When I want the mix to sound differently based on its dynamics, it’s usually section-by-section and I can make more effective and focussed changes by working on the arrangement or processing individual tracks.

Does anyone use parallel compression on the mix bus? Can you tell me why you use it?

-Kim.

 

3 thoughts on “Parallel Compression on the Whole Mix… why?

  1. I do on some occasions. Mainly when working on techno or techno influenced material. I do it because I like the artifacts it produces (and I tend to go in quite heavy, yet carefully balanced). There is no other way to achieve certain pumping effets. Sometimes I set up the chain first on the master (which often includes saturation as well as compression) to achieve the right sound, and only then start to work on the actual music. So its not something i would add in the end as a sort of mastering procedure. The music is designed with that in mind from the very beginning.

    Obviously this won’t work on most styles of music!

  2. Hi Kim,

    I wrote that article so I think it’s appropriate I weigh in. I think its a good question, often times no compression at all on the master is the best choice. I’d say 3/4 mixes don’t see any kind of mix buss compression at all. The reason being for exactly what you stated – at every stage of the process there’s ways of achieving what you need for the final mix.

    But, sometimes you get to the mix buss and you find that you want a little something extra. Mix buss compression is unique in that it is controlled by every bit of the mix, it allows the bass and guitars to move and react to the drums on a level that you wouldn’t necessarily get throughout the mix. Sometimes it’s that bit of icing on the cake that gives the mix a lil’ extra something.

    So why do it in parallel? For me, the major advantage of parallel compression is that it gives you very fine control of how the signal will be effected, as it lets you clearly hear the effect. You can really pump the heck out of it and generate an over exaggerated movement or thickness, and then find a sweet spot for your blend. For something as finicky as the mix buss, sometimes having this fine control is advantageous.

    Ultimately it’s a means to an end, and there are many ways to get to an end.

    -Matt

  3. Kim Lajoie says:

    Hi Matt, thanks for commenting. You raise a good point. When I’ve used mix bus compression in the past (I tend to go through phases, these days not doing it at all, but I went through a few years when I did it on almost every mix) I’ve found there to be a very fine line between unnoticeable compression and too much crush. With parallel compression, I could set up an exaggerated compressed vibe and then blend it in. Sounds like it could be a good approach.

    -Kim.

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