If you look at a lot of my tracking and mixing sessions, you’ll find several similarly named tracks. While no two tracks are exactly the same, each duplicate plays an important role when it comes to reinforcing the sonic quality of each instrument. Through processes like parallel compression, alternative processing, and different microphones and their placement, I’m able to get the ideal sound that I’m looking for with ease.
Same Source, Different Sound
Perhaps the easiest of these techniques to utilize is the process of capturing sound with multiple microphones and blending to taste. My most frequent use of this is on recording live guitar cabinets. Various types of microphones will capture different colors. Commonly a condenser microphone will catch the brighter bite of a guitar, while ribbon microphones will give you a darker tone with more low-end content. Other common ways to change up the sound is combining multiple amplifier qualities by re-amping or using amp emulation such as IK Multimedia’s Amplitube or Line 6′s POD Farm. Following this train of thought, sound can be affected by putting different processing on an identical copy of the original. One example of this would be hard panning each signal to an opposite side, then applying different equalization to make one sound darker, but there are literally thousands of ways to make one source sound unique in the mix.
All the pros are doing it. For a ready ready hit, you need a lead vocal capable of punching you in the face at a low volume, and doubling will get you there. Most hard hitting rock has several vocal takes layered on top of each other to stand out, with some of the most prevalent examples being Green Day and the Foo Fighters. You don’t need to be Chris Lord-Alge to achieve these vocals though. Just get a decent singer that can mimic the same vocal take a few times, and make sure you align them as close as possible to create the feeling of a single vocal. If you don’t have a cluster of synths or guitars to fight your way through, this technique can also be used to create a subtle boost in the chorus of a softer song. By using a single vocal take for verses, then adding a double to the chorus, most songs will gain a more upfront feel where you really need it.
Compression is a beast of processing that really needs to be studied to understood, and even once you get the concept, it could be months before you’ll hear how it’s actually affecting your mix. This form of compression, also known as New York Compression, has been used for several decades to add a unique element to mixes. Without going into detail of how compression works, most can still hear and understand what parallel compression does on a basic level. When you mix in a heavily compressed signal with a clean (or slightly compressed) one, you maintain the sound of the original kit while gaining the tight, crushed attack of the compressed signal. Most commonly, I find myself using this technique on my drums, where I like to use an 1176-style limiter on its highest ratio to get a slightly distorted sound. While I won’t usually match the levels in this situation, it’s amazing to hear what a parallel compressed signal adds at levels as low as 30-40 dB below the main signal.
As I feel like I do with most articles and guides, my end advice is to go out and experiment to see what sounds best in your mixes. Distortions and differing equalization is a great place to start on almost any instrumentation. Don’t be afraid to see what processing does to each instrument; in the digital world, you can always revert to your original settings and start again.