This is a pre-release version of the chapter on Parallel Processing, from the new book “YOUR MIX SUCKS” (now available in English, German, Spanish and soon Italian).
The book is a Complete Mix Methodology for the entire process from DAW preparation to delivery.
Have you ever listened to a great mix and wondered how the vocals were upfront and in your face, had tons of attitude and at the same time still sounded natural and relatable?
Many times, the secret behind that was Parallel Processing aka Parallel Compression.
At the core of it, here’s what Parallel Processing is about – let’s take a Lead Vocal-track for example:
1. Duplicate your original vocal-track, so it plays back on two audio channels.
2. Leave the original version untreated (= no plug-ins), but treat the shit out of the duplicated track, e.g. compress it hard, add frequencies that give the vocal some attitude (just as an example – add whatever you’re after). While you’re treating the duplicate, mute the original, and have no mercy – go to extremes with the treatment, to the point where you couldn’t use the signal in the mix on it’s own.
3. Turn the duplicated track fully down, then carefully start blending it with the untreated original by slowly bringing the fader up. Use this the way you would add sugar and salt when cooking – it’s about subtly pushing the original signal in a certain direction without affecting it’s integrity and natural dynamics.
That’s really easy to do, right?
Congratulations, you’ve just learned Parallel Processing.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL DIMENSION
Parallel Processing is the solution to a problem that I remember experiencing with compressors since the first time I used one in the 80s (a cheap dbx 163X):
1. on extreme compression settings, the signal has great punch, tone and attitude, but at the same time you really can’t use it like that, it just sounds too manipulated and processed.
2. without compression, the audio sounds clean and natural but lacks punch and attitude
Parallel Processing takes some weight from the mix engineers shoulder – by separating the clean and compressed audio, the audio-source becomes easier to manage.
You start to take more risks during your mix – you can just experiment on an additional parallel-chain for fun. If it doesn’t work – throw it away!
You never feel like you’re messing with the original signal.
PARALLEL PROCESSING ON VOCALS
On the first example, at the beginning of this article, I left the original signal completely untreated. That was of course an extreme example to illustrate the principle of parallel processing. While you might not use any compression on your clean (original) signal, you still want to make sure the audio delivers a consistent performance.
Never use a parallel chain to be a substitute for automation or other audio housekeeping.
Use automation for parts that drop too much in volume, and never forget to do the necessary EQing / filtering (like removing low end rumble or doing some DeEssing).
The concept of Parallel Processing is to design two or several signal chains of the same source that go for different aesthetic goals – here are some ideas:
A – treat for uncolored, natural, dynamic
B – treat for extreme, coloured, saturated, or even distorted
Of course, you can create even more duplicates of your signal that are differently treated – some examples:
C – run through a guitar amp plug-in for distortion
D – separate breathing noises from the actual „tones“ in the vocal, and keep as untreated and natural as possible (use automation to level bits that jump out)
E – create a duplicate specifically to send to Echos and Reverbs
I like to think of Echos and Reverbs like a blurry shadow on a photography – hence DON’T send to them from your „upfront/punchy“ vocal channel. Create something more cloudy/blurry that has a stark contrast to your direct vocal signal.
PARALLEL PROCESSING ON DRUMS
I gave you plenty of ideas in the recent article on „Mixing Kicks“. Just a few examples:
– create a duplicate to bring out the transient
– separate the duplicates into different frequency ranges
– use a duplicate to bring out harmonics (check my post on that)
Try sending your entire Drum Submix to a Parallel Compression Chain. This can give your drums great stability in the mix, while transients are unaffected.