Sidechain Compression Simplified

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sidechain compression

nooooo not 2 Chains compression….Sidechain Compression!

Although I bet some side-chaining has taken place on some 2 chains records. I mean it is a baller way to get your kick drum to pop through the mix.
It’s also beneficial if you’re mixing the next big EDM song and you need that s&%t to be pumping to get you to stand up in your studio with the lights out flailing a bunch of glow sticks around like a teenager hopped up on red bull and hot cheetos.
Man hot cheetos are sooo good.
What sidechain compression allows you to do is basically put a compressor on a track you want briefly turned down, have that compressor “keyed” by another track that you want to shine in that moment the 1st track is turned down. Follow me?
For example: you want the kick to be in your face every time it hits, but the bass guitar is also hitting at the same time. You could set up this side chain technique and have the bass “duck” out of the way each time that kick hits. Pretty sexy right!?
Let me explain in further detail what the heck I’m talking about.

Common Uses

1) I think the most common use for this technique is when you need that pumping effect like you hear in EDM music, or any style similar to that.

It just gets the body and mind moving and creates an energy.

2) Another good reason to use side chain compression subtly is when you just want you bass and kick to sit better with each other.

The Kick drum and  Bass guitar are usually the only instruments who occupy the super low end.
So what you get sometimes is something called frequency masking.
All this means is that two or more instruments are occupying the same frequencies and “masking” or covering up, or muddying each other.
This is typically where EQ would come in to carve out pockets for each instrument to occupy and be heard more clearly.
BUT, sometimes you need a little extra help. Like mentioned early, this technique can help the kick shine through by ducking the bass in volume each time the kick hits.
You wouldn’t want the pumping effect as noticeable when using it this way. You’re shooting for more of a subtle approach.
This goes back to the saying, it’s not major mind blowing moves that make a great mix, but more a lot of subtle moves that add up over time.
3) Another good use of this technique is using it to help vocals stand out when you have a heavy mix. For example, on a rock song with heavy guitars, you could set this up to duck the guitars a small amount when the vocals are in, but go right back to normal when there is no singing.

The Set Up

It’s actually really easy to set this up.
In the example of a Kick and a EDM style synth pad, you would first need to send a copy of the kick to an open bus.

sidechain compression

Second, you will need to open a compressor on the synth (whatever you want ducked or turned down), and make sure it has side chain controls on it.
Set the “Key” input on the compressor to the same bus you sent the kick to.

sidechain compression

Make sure you activate the “key” on the compressor. Usually there is a button with a key symbol. Go figure.

sidechain compression

Then you will just need to adjust the parameters of the compressor to get the desired effect you want.
Lower the threshold until you start getting the desired amount of gain reduction, and then play with the attack and release to set the feel of it.
I shot a video below as well to show you how I do this. Check it out!

Well I hope this helped you get a better grasp on using sidechain compression, and that you can come up with unique ways of implementing this into your music.
If you do have a cool example of how you use this in your own project, please share your results and comment below.
Happy mixing!

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