I know it might sound crazy. But for the last several years I treat regular compression almost like it’s an afterthought.
But it wasn’t always like that…
Instead, for years I had a tough time setting my compressors. I never really heard what they were doing exactly. And with so many knobs, I would get overwhelmed.
But I knew that compression was super important for getting great mixes. So I would dutifully add the Logic Compressor everywhere I thought I needed it.
Then when I would get 80% through a mix, I’d compare my mix against a reference track. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?
So I would load up a reference into my Logic Project. And then I would solo back and forth between my mix and the reference.
Unfortunately, the results always felt the same:
- My mix lacked power
- My tracks lacked stability
- My mix felt small
So I read tons of books and articles on compression. And I watched tons of videos on YouTube.
And everyone was very quick to caution against using too much compression.
They weren’t wrong. If you use too much Compression, you can squash the life out of your tracks. Instead of huge sounding drums, you could end up with drums that can’t cut through the mix at all.
So I’d carefully set my Compressor to a “reasonable” ratio, like 3:1.
And then I’d make sure to not take more than a 1 – 3 dB off the top of my instrument.
You know what though?
My tracks still sounded small, unstable and wimpy!
And like a crazy person, I kept doing the same thing over and over. Like everything would just magically change one day…
Enter: Parallel Compression
After a while, I got fed up with my wimpy mixes. So I started experimenting with Parallel Compression.
Parallel Compression isn’t anything new. But it’s certainly a more radical approach to compressing.
In fact, Parallel Compression has friends in some pretty high places. Andrew Scheps, famous mix engineer for artists like Lana Del Rey and Hozier, is a huge fan of parallel processing.
But what is Parallel Compression? In a nutshell:
- You create a copy of your instrument, and
- You beat the living daylights out of it with compression.
You know how all those YouTubers tell you to be careful with compression?
Well, with Parallel Compression, you aren’t careful at all.
Once you’ve smashed the copy, you blend the copy underneath the original instrument.
And the result?
Stability. Strength. Power.
So while I treat regular compression like an afterthought, I treat my parallel compression very seriously.
And you know what?
It doesn’t take much to get great sounding tracks!
When’s the Right Time to Use Parallel Compression?
I use parallel compression on just about everything:
- Acoustic guitars
Just take a look at this screenshot of one of my mix sessions:
There is no less than 6 parallel compression Aux channels! And that’s just what I can fit into the screenshot.
It’s like sending your tracks to a reverb Aux Channel. But instead of reverb, you’re sending them to get leveled up!
The best part is that your original track keeps all its dynamic and life. So your tracks never sound smushed.
So I use regular compression to tighten up the peaks on a track. And I use parallel compression to dig up the life and consistency.
How to Set Up Parallel Compression
Let’s say you have a vocal track. There’s lots of dynamics, and you need this vocal track to command the audience. That means the vocals need to be consistent and locked in at every moment.
You have 2 ways to set up your Parallel Compression:
- Send your vocals to an Aux Channel
- Duplicate your vocal track
1 & 2 are essentially the same. You can create a bus and send your vocals to an Aux Channel, which is like making a copy. Or you can make a copy by duplicating your vocal track.
I always prefer busses, so let’s send your vocals to an Aux channel. Start by clicking on the Send fields on your vocal track:
Pick the next available bus that doesn’t have a track name next to it. In my case, I’ll choose Bus 2.
When I choose Bus 2, Logic is going to automatically create an Aux Channel. The input of that Aux Channel will be Bus 2.
So the flow of sound looks like this:
Vocal Track > Bus X > Aux Channel
(Need a refresher on Bussing in Logic? Check out this post here.)
At the moment though, your vocals aren’t actually sending sound to your Aux. It’s like even though the piping is ready to go, you haven’t turned the faucet on yet. So no water is running through!
To turn on the faucet, Option-click the circle next to the Send on your vocal channel.
Now your Aux will receive the full volume of your vocal track. You can listen to the Aux Channel by itself by soloing the Aux.
Let’s name your parallel compression Aux channel “Vocal Crush” (VOX CRSH).
Smashing the Signal
Now on to the best part! If you’re on Logic 10.4 or later, I suggest using Phat FX. But if you’re on an earlier version of Logic, you can use the Logic Compressor.
I’ve found that the sweet spot to parallel compression is:
- Smash your Aux Channel with compression
- Add a touch of distortion for vibe
That’s why I love Phat FX. The Compressor block is super easy to dial in. And the distortion modes are easy and sound great.
If you’re using the Logic Compressor, you can also dial in distortion with the Distortion modes.
(For more details on dialing in the Logic Compressor distortion, check out this post here.)
For Phat FX, I would place the Compressor block before the Distortion blocks:
Now dial the Compressor threshold down until your vocals sound pretty well smashed. We’re looking for a very stable vocal sound.
Then choose one distortion mode. I suggest Diode or Tube. Dial up the distortion to about 20 – 30%.
Next, bring your Vocal Crush Aux channel fader all the way down.
Start listening to your vocal track in the context of the full mix. As you listen, start to bring up the fader on the Vocal Crush Aux channel slowly.
The goal is to bring up the Aux until your vocals sound present and stable, without becoming too overwhelming.
And this is how I glue my tracks together in my mixes 🙂
Parallel Compression is a gift for bringing your mixes to the next level. By smashing your tracks and blending the copy underneath, your tracks spring to life.
Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!