How many times have you tried to make your mixes sound really punchy and fat and ended up with over-compressed tracks and a mix that sounds lifeless and dull? In this article, I’m gonna show you how to achieve in Ableton Live that New York sound with a parallel compression trick that will make your tracks sound punchy and fat, without losing too much dynamics and brightness.
The usual way to use a compressor, is as an insert, to control dynamics, making the track somehow more even in terms of loudness, and yes, even very subtle audio compression can affect pretty much the tonal characteristics of the sound. Another technique is to compress in parallel, this retains the original track’s sound and dynamics while adding some punchy compressed sound.
Setting this up is very easy, you need to create a return track, there, you will insert your compressor.
Let’s say you wanna compress a drum bus using this technique. As you see in the following image, the compressor is inserted in return C, so, I’ve turned up the send C level in the Drum Buss track.
Ok, now all you need is to set up the compressor and mix the levels… well, it’s actually a little bit more complicated, let’s see. First, you need to know what compressor to choose. The best compressors for this task are the slower ones, so, any LA (leveling amplifier) emulation, will do the trick: LA 2A, LA 3A, LA 1176, etc. You will set the compressor to almost squash the track, there are no rules that apply to everything, but in general terms, this means anything above 9 dB of gain reduction will do the trick.
If your compressor has attacked and releases time controls, set up a fast attack and a fast release, this will add some pumping to the compressed portion of the signal. Now, to compensate for the compressed signal, we are gonna insert an EQ after the compressor. Here, we’ll boost 6 dB at 100 Hz and 6 dB at 10 kHz with shelf EQ.
Finally, we need to mix the dry signal with the compressed signal. Be careful, the compressed signal level, should not be, by any means, above the dry signal, or even at the same level. Between 6 dB and 24 dB below the dry signal, should be OK, but, of course, here, you are gonna have to trust your ears! One thing that works well for me, is to imagine that the return fader is a punch control, being 24 dB below the dry signal some punch, and 6 dB below the dry signal, a lot of punch!
This technique works great for drums, basses, guitars, and vocals. Of course, you should not use both techniques, insert and parallel compression at the same time for any given track, otherwise, you’ll be over-compressing and this technique won’t work as it should. Parallel audio compression, also works great when mastering a track and will certainly give you that big, fat, punchy New York sound!