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Brandon Drury
Owner of Echo Echo Studios, Brandon Drury, has recorded and mixed over 600 songs in his very busy home recording studio.  

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Drum Mixing: Parallel Compression
By Brandon Drury | Published  09/18/2006
?Lately, I've had great luck with parallel compression on my drums. I must say that I've always struggled with my mixes having competitive levels. Yes, I know how to make a mix loud, but it always seamed to sound crappy as well. I hated just smashing the 2bus with a compressor or limiter. It just seamed to undo the work I had always done, particularly in the drums.

On my latests mixes, I've been slapping a compressor and limiter on the stereo bus when I'm about ? done with the mix. The mixes I'm doing now have to be competitive in terms of level. That means I must smash them. Of course this really kills the drums. Well lately, as one of the last things I do in the mix, I've been using parallel compression on the kick and snare top.

In case, you are not familiar with parallel compression, here's the definition to parallel compression? found in the Music Glossary.

I've been doing mixes as usual. I'll go ahead and smash the 2bus with compression and limiting to get the mix loud enough. Of course, after doing this my drums are usually buried. Then, I go ahead and kick in the parallel compression. When I bring up the fader containing the parallel compression, I can hear the drums regain their life and their definition again. Essentially, I'm using excessive overcompression to compensate for the excessive compression on the 2bus. It's kind of sillly when you think about it, but I guess in some ways, it's like fighting fire with fire.

I'm basically taking the 2bus (which is already getting spanked pretty good) and cramming quite a bit of attack into it. Of course, much of it is getting cut right off by the stupid Waves L2 limiter, but the drums do appear to hit harder without sacrificing overall level.

Some people are against mixing with compression and limiting on the 2bus. They insist that this is something that should be saved for mastering. Well, I've tried it every way under the sun and for me, I find the results are better when I can let my mix react to the compression. Obviously, if the mix is done and the master if applied there is little I can do to properly accommodate the changes that mastering can make.

Using parallel compression on the drums as one of the last mixing moves seams to be a great way of compensating for the disastrous effect that mastering will have on my mix. Yes, you heard me. I generally do not like mastering. My mastered mixes always sound worse on my studio monitors, but generally translate a little better. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I'm used to hearing music that's been smashed all to hell in my car stereo or on my computer speakers.


  • Comment #1 (Posted by BA(hons) Rec Arts.)

    "Smashing" the mix with compression is the reason your masters sound bad. You need to give a mastering engineer a dynamic mix, not give him 5-6db (or less)to work with. If you must use compression on the stereo buss then make sure your attack and release times are set very slow (beyond 250ms) and you threshold is set between -10 or 15db. this will allow the compression to 'breathe' around your mix while still letting transients (like drums) through. If you want to use parallel compression, I find it is better to mix down two stereo versions of the whole song and then apply compression heavily to one.
  • Comment #2 (Posted by Brandon Drury)

    I've had good luck with mastering guys and horrendous luck with mastering guys. Based on the budget of most recordings I'm involved in, I can not afford a good mastering guy.

    I've had particularly bad experiences with guys who I didn't consider to be cheap. Based on the advice of Michael Wagener and others, I've decided to master most material I work on myself.

    The mastering engineer will DESTROY a mix with compression with little regard for the music. I'd rather do the smashing and go from there.

    If was I was to use a compressor with a long 250ms attack time, I would have to rely entirely on my limiter to knock the peaks down to get us up to this ridiculous standard I call competition loudness.

    If my clients wanted to spend 2k on mastering for 4 songs, I could probably find a guy who would do a good job for me. Most clients can not jusify the expense especially after some of the horror stories I have.

  • Comment #3 (Posted by John)

    Most mastering guys have no clue what they're doing. You can search the Net high and low samples and will not find a properly mastered/sounding music even by larger studios. The only way to get your music sound just like the stuff you buy in the shop is to go to real pros like for example Sony studios. They will charge huge but you get real results. Other than that you're better off doing it your self. Tha fact is that when it comes to quality therer's only a perfect mix done by pros or a mix by home recorder. There's nothing between evenmm if your mix is close to the "pro" sound, it is still just "close" so essentially not good enough.
  • Comment #4 (Posted by Jeff)

    The advice above is nonsense. There are great, affordable mastering engineers out there. And by affordable I don't mean cheap or free, but reasonable. Experience is key and there will be a fee. So avoid the mastering 'whores' and work with seek out someone who has been doing it a while. Don't let a few bad apples... Check out the credits on records you like to see who mastered them. Most mastering engineers will also offer a sample of there mastering for free. It's an easy way to check out mastering without paying a dime. Self-mastering is not mastering at all, as it defeats the purpose of mastering at all.
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