Community Q&A: Parallel Distortion

Daily Blog - July 14th 2021

The Self-Recording Band Community is awesome and our members ask great questions! We love that and want this platform to be as helpful as possible, so we try to answer them all. Sometimes on the podcast, sometimes directly in the Facebook group, sometimes via email and sometimes here on the blog. Let's do a little Q&A series over a couple of days. The first question is about using parallel distortion or saturation.

Community Q&A: Parallel Distortion


Ryan asks: "I know typically drums and vocals get parallel distortion, but what other instruments get parallel distortion? Are there any?"

Here's my answer:

I wouldn't say there's anything "typical". For example, two of the best and most successful mixers of all time have drastically different approaches to this: Andrew Scheps loves parallel compression/distortion, Andy Wallace says he almost never uses anything parallel. And these are just two examples.

I personally love parallel compression on drums but the saturation on the actual drum bus, so not in parallel. Same with vocals and anything that I want to be upfront, clear and explosive.

I do love parallel distortion on bass, though. And on hammond organs, rhodes, etc. Basically everything that is more sustained and less transient-heavy. 

And then there's always the exception.

I think it's because using some saturation tools in parallel can cause phase issues and smear the transients, which softens the attack in a weird way and pushes the track back in the mix. This happens if there are filters or crossovers built into the distortion box or plugin, for example.

Most modern saturation tools, like Soundtoys Decapitator, Fabfilter Saturn, tape emulations etc. use some sort of filter and/or let you tweak the EQ and that can definitely cause phase issues, because EQ changes are by definition phase changes. It doesn't always matter, though. It's just good to know about it and check it when using anything in parallel.

But don't get me wrong, I LOVE distortion on drums and vocals! I'm just careful with what I'm using in parallel and often I just put it straight on the channel or bus and destroy it.

I'm usually not gentle with it and enjoy messing things up. Also, the types of compressors I use typically give me plenty of saturation/distortion already.

At the end of the day you can use parallel distortion on anything you want. If and how you use it just depends on the tool (phase) and the result you're going for. 


PS: If you're looking for an amazing community to get feedback from and provide your own expertise for, check out The Self-Recording Band Community. It's 100% free and can be the growth accelerator you've been missing all the time.

PPS: Downloading one of our free guides and joining our email list is also a great way to connect with your peers, as we will invite you to events and keep you in the loop about what's going on in our community. For example, we host amazing video meetups and help people improve their recordings, arrangements and mixes by listening and giving collective feedback live on the call. Join us now!

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