All About Sidechain Compression

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Get Those Sounds Pumping!

You’ve probably heard of sidechain compression by now. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock, or just started producing recently, sidechain compression is basically using one sound to trigger a compressor on another track. So instead of the compressor activating and lowering the volume when its track is played, it lowers the volume of its track based on an entirely different track.  This means you can get creative with your compression and create the popular ‘pumping’ type sound heard in many EDM songs today. Another big use of sidechaining is to compress the bass to let your kick come through cleanly. This makes the kick feel louder and makes mixing your track a lot cleaner.


How does it work though?

Ok, ok. Normally you’d put a compressor on your synth track to help normalize the levels. When that synth track gets too loud, the compressor brings down the volume to keep things more even.  That’s a super simple way of looking at compressors. This time though, when you put the compressor on your synth track, you set the input to your kick track. Now, whenever your kick plays, the compressor activates and lowers the volume of your synth track. Make sense? (If not, just watch the video, it’s easier to see than to read)


Why does this matter?

Assuming you don’t just want to have the pumping effect that is so common, it’s a really good idea to sidechain your basses so they aren’t fighting with your kick all the time. Sure, you can help some of that with good EQing, but sometimes even that’s not enough. When you sidechain your bass, it lets the kick be the loudest element in the low frequencies, making it seem a lot louder. Plus, you help get rid of some of the muddiness down there, and you gain more headroom by balancing out your low frequencies!


Beginner – Create a kick and a synth track with some chords. Add some sidechain compression to your synth and see if you can get the release to sync up with your song. Remember, it should be just about back to full volume when it’s triggered again to lower the volume. You may want to ease off on the compression amount to make it sound a bit better.

Advanced – Practice adding sidechain compression on your bass channel(s) to let your kick come through clearer. Try very subtle compression all the way to pumping it. See the differences there and try to figure out roughly what levels of compression you like. Keep in mind this is very dependent on all of the tracks combined, so you may need to tweak things from song to song.

Question: When was the first time you heard someone mention sidechain compression? How about the first time you recognized it in a song? Have you ever used sidechaining before? How do you think you’ll use it going forward?