The compressor can be one of the more difficult effects to get your head round using effectively, today I am going to show how to use it to make your beats sound noticeably louder using parallel compression, which is great for harder sounding genres of music. Firstly it is probably best to show you what the original beat sounded like before any compression is applied.
Our beat is a simple reprogramming from a drum loop recorded by bigjoedrummer from freesound, which you can find, download and sample from here under a Creative Commons license.
On listening to the drum beat above, they sound good, but we want them to stand out by sounding a bit tougher and we can do this thanks to compression. Compression squashes the sound's loudest parts by a specific ratio so that the volume has less of a difference in volume between the loudest and quietest sections. Lowering the volume of the loudest parts of a sound (the attack of the drums as it is hit) and making these loud parts closer to the volume of the quieter parts (in this case the tail of the sound). This means that we can raise the volume of the whole sound to a higher level because it is not clipping over 0dB and the sound is perceived as being louder.
Unfortunately compressors when pushed too far don't actually sound that great. Thankfully this is where Parallel Compression comes in which is also known to some as New York Compression. Parallel compression should be looked at as a compromise between the compressed and uncompressed signal. This compromise can be achieved a number of ways but etting up a hard compressor on a return channel on your mixer is the easiest. Then by sending the audio signals to it in varying amounts will effectively mix our uncompressed signal with a compressed signal in parallel. Here is our original beat from above, but this time with added parallel compression...
As we can hear, this new version sounds tougher and louder, if you didn't hear the difference, go back and listen to the first one again. There is nothing else going on different in this compressed version compared to the uncompressed one except sending the kick, snare and a little bit of hi-hat to a the compressor return. To my ears the drum beat doesn't sound overly compressed like it would had the compressor been used as an insert on a channel or over the final mix.
Right now I shall tell you my compressor settings and how you can reproduce this effect yourselves. Firstly you need to set up a compressor on a return channel on your mixer, so you can send each part to the compressor through a send. With the compressor we want to really compress it hard, to do this you can set it up in the way that works for your music style, but if you get stuck, this is from my homemade default parallel compression patch settings...
- Attack: 0.05ms
- Release: 15ms
- Ratio: 12
- Threshold: -30dB
Some people will use different settings, but I find that these work well for me. You should be seeing some heavy gain reduction going on in the compressor for it to work well. Now you want to send each of the drum parts from your mixer to the compressor in the return track. In our example above I sent the Kick (-24dB), Snare (-18dB) and Hihat (-35dB) all from separate channels to our return channel with the compressor on. You will want to set the sends by ear, don't use the send dB settings I gave you above as each drum track you make will need a different setting. Instead try to find a level that you can hear the compression effect but it doesn't sound too overly compressed.
To give you an idea of what is going on within the return channel, here is the audio from the return only. To my ears this sounds way too much/over the top compression.
Parallel compression works well because we are getting the benefits of the compressed signal but also keeping the dynamics of the uncompressed signal. If you've never tried this before hopefully now you'll be able to go away and use this effect within your own mixes to create better sounding drum beats which compete better with the harder, fatter sounding producers.
Parallel Compression can bring in a bit of unwanted phasing, I've left it in on the example above, this is because you are mixing two sounds which are similar and they cancel each other out at different points. This can be remedied slightly by holding back the timing of the return signal by a couple of milliseconds. This could be done by exporting the return channel from your DAW and placing it on its own channel but pushing the audio to the right to start later by a few milliseconds.