Mixing Tips Part 2 - Side-Chain Compression

Mixing tips part 2 - Topic: Side-Chain and its applications

What is sidechain compression?

Sidechain compression is a technique that uses the signal from one instrument or voice to trigger a compressor on another signal. The sidechain signal is used to determine the threshold of the compressor and thus to control its effect on the signal to be compressed.

Sidechain compression is often used in music production to control the dynamics of instruments or voices and create interesting sound effects. For example, you can use the sidechain signal from a synthesizer to control the dynamics of a bass instrument, creating a "pumping" sound. Sidechain compression can also be used to change and shape the sound of vocals or other instruments.

In order to use sidechain compression, a compressor with a sidechain function is usually required. This function makes it possible to apply the sidechain signal to the compressor's threshold and thus control the effect of the compressor on the signal to be compressed. The compressor's settings, such as attack, release, and ratio, are then used to achieve the desired effect on the signal being compressed.

There are many ways to use side-chaining. In addition to the already known techniques, we show a few more examples of what side-chain compression can still be good for.

Just in EDMArea, the pumping effect of a side-chain process has become very modern again. Other terms by which the process is known include New York Compression or Upward compression. Let us now first come to the three most popular possible uses.


How do I set up a sidechain compressor?

To set sidechain compression, there are a few steps to keep in mind:

  1. Choose the compressor with sidechain function: First of all, you have to choose a compressor with sidechain function. This can be either a hardware compressor or a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) plugin.

  2. Set the signal to compress: Set the signal you want to compress by feeding it to the compressor's input. This can be a bass instrument or a vocal track, for example.

  3. Set the sidechain signal: Set the sidechain signal that will trigger the compressor by connecting it to the compressor's sidechain input. This can be a synthesizer signal or a drum track, for example.

  4. Adjusting the threshold: Adjust the compressor's threshold using the sidechain signal. The threshold determines when the compressor reacts to the signal being compressed and when it stops compressing.

  5. Adjusting Attack and Release Adjust the compressor's attack and release settings to determine how quickly the compressor responds to the signal and how long it compresses. These settings affect the tonal characteristics of the compressor and can be used to create the desired effect on the signal being compressed.

  6. Adjusting Ratio and Make-up Gain: Adjust the compressor's ratio setting to determine how much the signal being compressed is compressed. Then use the Make-up Gain to adjust the volume of the compressed signal and bring it back to the original level.

It is important to take the time to thoroughly understand and test the compressor's settings to achieve the desired effect on the signal being compressed. It can also be helpful to refer to tutorials or other resources for a better understanding of sidechain compression

Sidechain compression used in the bass range

With music styles that have their origins “In the Box”, you can create very dynamic and prominent basses by using side-chain compression. Here, the bass signal is told (with the help of the threshold), “from this loudness / dynamic value” (depending on whether you compress to RMS or peak) the bass signal should be compressed and thus its dynamics restricted. This is often used in EDM for the interplay of kick and bassline. The kick is sent as an SC signal to lower the bass line whenever the kick is heard. This way the kick retains its punch and doesn't get lost in the bassline.

Sidechain compression as DeEsser

Everyone knows this useful tool. But what if there is no DeEsser at hand? Duplicate your vocal track and do NOT route it to any output. This track serves as a "signal generator" for your self-made DeEsser. Now, in addition to the compressor, you switch an EQ into the audible vocal track and set it so that it works in the range between approx. 7-9 kHz. A ratio of 1: 3 is recommended for the compressor. The remaining parameters are a matter of taste and should be adjusted by ear.

Separate or lift passages from one another

Another possibility to use side-chain is to tell the Singal at certain passages that the other Singal should withdraw. With the help of the threshold control, which should be set to (RMS), you tell the compressor that it should only start working from a certain dynamic value. This is particularly helpful with instruments that are in the same frequency response, such as piano and guitar. With the help of automation, the entire signal paths of a chorus can be provided with more "power" and sections of it can be compressed differently in order to create space for other instruments or to bring other instruments to the fore at certain points.

Nested side-chaining

I constructed a 3-way nesting as sidechaining. I did this because, on the one hand, I am playing the kick drum Mix wanted to get through better and on the other hand to construct a light “pump effect” between sinus bass and synth bass in order to create a little more variety within the drum set.

I did this nesting as follows:

Kick drum as a signal generator

Here you can see that the kick serves as a signal generator for the synth bass and the sine bass. I switched the signal level from post-fader to pre-fader. This means that the output signal of the kick is tapped before the volume fader.

Sidechain in Cubasse

Sinus bass as a signal generator

Here the sine bass serves as a signal generator for the parallel compressed synth bass. Send effects Cubase

Side chain compressor settings

Here you can see the associated settings for the 3 side chain compressors. Side chain compression Cubase  

The settings used here can of course be varied freely, because the following also applies here:

Good is what sounds good and pleases.

So it is also possible to "side-chain" effect channels. This is particularly interesting with reverb and delay. So you could use a delay signal as a signal generator for a reverb. If you combine this with an attacker on the reverb channel, you can easily conjure up very crazy effects. There are no limits to creativity here. Have fun with Mixing and mastering.

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