How To Use Parallel Drum Compression Effectively (Step-by-Step)

Parallel drum compression, a technique in audio production, adds impact and control to drum tracks.

Basically, it's blending heavily compressed and uncompressed signals for a dynamic, punchy sound.

Benefits include increased punch, retained dynamics, enhanced sustain, and control.

Now, let's explore the setup and application of this technique.

Parallel Drum Compression Guide

To set up parallel processing, it's crucial to understand the signal flow.

Start by duplicating the original drum track. This duplication creates a parallel track that will receive the compressed signal.

By having separate tracks, you can control the blend between the dry and compressed signals more effectively.

Once you have the parallel track set up, it's time to prepare the drum tracks for compression.

Ensure that the drum tracks are well organized and labeled. Remove any unnecessary audio clips or regions to keep the session clutter-free.

Remember to clean up any unwanted background noise or excessive bleeding that may interfere with the compression process.

Now, it's time to apply compression to the parallel track.

Adjusting Attack and Release Settings

It's important to strike a balance where the compressed signal enhances the drum sound without overpowering it.

Pay attention to how the compression affects the transients and sustain of the drums.

Adjust the attack and release times to shape the overall drum sound to your liking.

Longer attack times, such as 30 milliseconds, preserve the initial transients of the drums, creating a more natural and punchy sound.

Shorter attack times, around 1-10 milliseconds, result in tighter and more controlled drums.

Shorter release times, around 10-50 milliseconds, allow the drum sound to breathe, while longer release times, around 50-100 milliseconds, provide a more controlled decay.

Fine-tune these settings to shape the drums' dynamics and achieve the desired impact.

Balancing the Dry and Compressed Signals

Finding the right balance between the dry and compressed signals is crucial.

Use the blend control or fader to adjust the level of the parallel compressed track.

Gradually increase the level of the compressed signal until you achieve the desired impact and character.

Be mindful of not overpowering the drums with excessive compression. The goal is to enhance their sound while preserving their natural dynamics.

Remember that parallel processing is a subjective process, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

Be attentive to the interaction between the drums and other elements in the mix and make adjustments accordingly to achieve a well-balanced drum sound.

Compressing Individual Drum Tracks

Applying parallel compression individually to specific drum tracks can enhance their presence in the mix.

For example, you can use parallel compression on the snare drum to make it snappier and more pronounced.

This technique allows you to shape the dynamics of individual drum elements while maintaining their natural sound within the overall mix.

Using Parallel Processing Creatively

Parallel drum processing can be used creatively to add color and character to the drum sound.

Experiment with distortion or saturation to create unique textures and tones.

By pushing the boundaries of compression, you can achieve interesting and unconventional drum sounds.

Apply distortion plugins or saturation effects to the parallel compressed track and adjust the settings to taste.

Be bold in your experimentation, but also keep the overall mix in mind to ensure the creative processing enhances the overall production rather than overpowering it.

Drum Bus

Parallel compression can also be applied to the entire drum bus, providing a unified and glued sound.

By using this technique, you add impact to the combined drum elements.

Here's a guide on how to set up and configure parallel compression on a drum bus.

Compressor Settings

When applying parallel compression to the drum bus, start with moderate settings and make adjustments based on your specific mix and desired outcome.

Here are some general settings to get you started:

  • Threshold: Set the threshold so that the compressor engages during louder drum hits, compressing the overall drum bus. Adjust it to hit anywhere around -5 dB as a starting point, then set it to taste.
  • Ratio: Choose a ratio that provides sufficient compression while still retaining the dynamics. A ratio between 4:1 and 8:1 is commonly used for parallel compression.
  • Attack: Set the attack time to retain the transients and punch while controlling the sustain.
  • Release: Adjust the release time to control how quickly the compressor recovers after the drum hits. Use a fast to medium release time as a starting point and adjust to taste.

To assist you in setting up drum bus parallel compression, here's a cheat sheet with suggested starting points:

  • Threshold: -15 to -10 dB
  • Ratio: 4:1 to 8:1
  • Attack: 15 to 30 ms
  • Release: 10 to 50 ms

Remember that these settings serve as a guide and should be adjusted based on the characteristics of your drum mix and personal preferences.

Plugin Chain Order

The order of plugins within the parallel drum track can affect the final sound.

Here's a suggested plugin chain order:

  • Compressor: Insert a compressor plugin to apply parallel drum compression. Adjust the settings according to your desired outcome.
  • EQ: Apply any necessary equalization to shape the drum sound after compression. This step allows you to address any tonal imbalances or frequency issues.
  • Additional Processing: After EQ, you can further enhance the drum bus by adding additional processing such as saturation, harmonic exciters, or other creative effects. Experiment with different plugins to add character and depth to the drums.

By arranging the plugins in this order, you can sculpt the drum sound with precision while utilizing the benefits of compression.

Keep in mind that the specific plugin choices and settings may vary depending on your preferred plugins and the characteristics of your drum mix.

Snare Drum Parallel Compression

Here's a guide on how to set up parallel compression on a snare, addressing settings, potential phase issues, considerations for top and bottom snare microphones, and usage with live drums.

Setting Up the Compressor

When setting up the compressor, consider the following settings:

  • Threshold: Set the threshold level to activate the compression when the snare hits reach a certain volume. Adjust it to control the amount of compression applied.
  • Ratio: Choose a ratio that provides sufficient compression while retaining the snare drum's natural dynamics. Ratios between 3:1 and 6:1 are commonly used for snare compression.
  • Attack: Set the attack time to retain the snare's initial transient, allowing it to cut through the mix.
  • Release: Usually a fast to medium release time is used to control the amount of sustain.

Potential Phase Issues

When applying parallel compression to the snare, it's important to be mindful of potential phase issues that can arise.

Since the parallel compressed signal is combined with the original snare signal, phase cancellation can occur if the two signals are not properly aligned.

This can result in a thin or hollow sound.

To avoid phase issues, ensure that the phase relationship between the original snare signal, overheads, room mics, and the parallel compressed signal remains intact.

Pay attention to the alignment of the tracks and make any necessary phase adjustments to achieve a solid and full snare sound.

Top and Bottom Snare Considerations

When using top and bottom snare microphones, you can choose to apply parallel processing individually to each microphone or combine them for a unified snare drum sound.

If applying parallel compression to each microphone separately, set up parallel tracks for both the top and bottom microphones and adjust the compression settings accordingly.

This allows you to shape the impact and sustain of each microphone independently, emphasizing the desired characteristics.

If combining the top and bottom snare microphones into a single parallel compressed track, sum the signals of both microphones into one parallel track before applying compression.

This method provides a cohesive snare sound with consistent compression characteristics.

Usage with Live Drums

When working with live drums, the parallel drum compression technique becomes even more crucial.

Live drums often have dynamic variations, and parallel compression helps to control and enhance the snare drum's impact and consistency.

Experiment with different settings and listen closely till you achieve the desired balance between the snare's attack, sustain, and overall presence in the mix.


What is the best compressor for parallel compression on drums?

Popular choices include the SSL G Bus Compressor for its punch and warmth, the API 2500 for its versatility and aggressive sound, and the Empirical Labs Distressor for its unique character and saturation.

Experiment with different compressors to find one that complements your drum mix and enhances the desired impact and dynamics.

Trust your ears and choose a compressor that best suits your creative vision.

What is the best ratio for parallel drum compression?

The ratio settings typically range between 3:1 and 8:1.

A ratio of 3:1 provides gentle compression, retaining more of the drum's natural dynamics.

Higher ratio settings such as 8:1 offer more aggressive compression for increased sustain and impact.

The specific ratio depends on the desired level of compression and the characteristics of the drum mix.


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