Sidechain compression

I’ve been tinkering a little with sidechain compression, which is where you use one audio track to trigger the compression on a second track. I’ve been using the Sonalksis compressor since it has this sidechain feature. Alternately, you can use a gate instead of a compressor, so I plan on trying that with the Sonalksis gate plugin.

In electronic music, the most common use for sidechain compression is to compress the bass track whenever the kick drum track comes in. So whenever your kick drum kicks, the volume of the bass ducks down a little, making it easier to hear the kick. This allows you to crank up the volume of both audio tracks without turning the overall song into a big muddy bassy mess.

As a nice side effect it helps subtly lock the groove of the two track together, since they now have something in common. This is mostly what I’m using it for, to get some subtle groove out of these rigid, computer programmed sequences. By playing with the attack and release values on the compressor, you can control how fast the compressor clamps down and lets go, which creates that groove. I am still experimenting with it and trying to find some good settings for each song by ear. Since I’m new to doing this and my brain doesn’t yet know what I “should” be setting things to, I’m just semi-randomly setting things to what sounds good.

The overall effect is fairly subtle, and when done in moderation is one of those things you don’t notice until it goes away. You can see it visually in the picture above by looking at the audio waveforms: the top track is the kick, the bottom track is the bass, the middle track is the bass after being compressed whenever the kick occurs.

The heavy, not so subtle use of this effect is Daft Punk’s signature production technique. Often times they will compress more than just the bass, so you will hear the whole rest of the track compress down whenever the kick hits, which makes everything pump and groove.

I am done with “lemonzen” and “lurp” for now, and put the latest version of lemon up on our myspace page. These songs are sounding pretty good but they will need a few more little tweaks, especially since I started experimenting with sidechain compression at the very end of the mixing process.

I’m trying not to get too distracted by the little things though, so for now I’m going to move on to mixing “laguna” and “bubblepop”. These two songs are the heart of the album, and are where it peaks, so I’m putting a fair amount of pressure on myself to get them right. This has me a little stressed out, but I’m optimistic it will all come together. More on them in a bit.