3 - compressor set for side-chain bass

(Subtle) Sidechain Compression

Even the least tech-savvy listener must surely now be aware of the sound of sidechain compression pushed to the max, given its dominance on more than a few pop (yes, I mean ‘EDM’) tracks in recent years. Of course, the technique – which we also discussed in our run through of bass production tips – has been around for decades, and can be used in a number of ways. The most extreme is the in-your-face ‘pumping’ effect, but we can also use it as a much more subtle tool for making space in the mix.

When we talk about sidechain compression we’re referring to the way in which the level detection circuitry of a compressor (originally in hardware form) can be controlled by a signal from another source (i.e. not the audio at the compressor’s main input).

If we route, say, a bassline to the main audio input of the compressor, a rhythmic element such as the kick drum can be routed to the compressor’s sidechain circuit, controlling the compression of the bass each time the kick plays. The degree and shape of this level change is determined by the attack, release, ratio and threshold controls of the compressor. Generally, a fast attack and medium-fast release are employed, though the kick drum sound itself will also affect the result.

Feeding your bassline into the compressor’s main input, with the set to alter the level by a few dBs, can enhance the groove and create a little extra space in the mix – effectively giving both parts the space they need.

Author Bruce Aisher
21st May, 2014


  • best mag in the net!

  • Good Job Bruce!

  • Superb

  • meh, equalizing is much more important than compression

  • The tuning of the drums is also very important. Not all percussion is unpitched, therefore it might be a good idea to tune drums either to the tonic, fifth, or whatever scale degree the drum section accompanies. Great tips, tho.

  • Another thing you can try: Use a Vocoder on your drums!

  • Leo – great point, and not just for pitched elements either. Pitching anything from kicks to claps to hi-hats up or down a step or two can have a dramatic impact on the overall sound of a beat.

    Check out our guide to the basics of drum tuning here: http://www.attackmagazine.com/technique/walkthroughs/how-to-tune-kick-snare-tom-drum-samples/

  • Great tips! You can also drive tracks and groups trough guitarpedals. Adding a hint of distortion to beats sound pretty amazing many times. No need to add it much, a bit of nice harmonic distortion you don’t even notice brings nice crispy attack and richer harmonics. Mooer pedals for example are pretty cheap but effectice. Here some kick drum / various pedals examples http://thegearfiend.com

    Would be nice to see an article about how different pedals work with full beats;)

  • Second that article idea from Hannu!

    Just use everything you have in your toolkit. I begin with pitching sounds, to see if they can fit better to the mood. EQing the shit out ouf your drums, you don’t need or want (which depends on the overall sound you’re looking for actually ). Then you might compress your drums to beef ’em up if your tracks need it, give specific sounds some room and reverb (I do it with sends) and then do some bus compression. Don’t overdo it and the result should be a drum sound you can definitely use. Tweak the rest later in the Mixing, because you will then have a stronger opinion on the overall sound you want.

    I think a big problem is a missing idea of the “big picture” in the first place. It’s easy to trick yourself into twiddle your drums and bass and all that difficult too long, while you don’t have any idea about how you want them to sound when it’s done. This idea can be there from beginning or can build up while you compose and arrange the track – just be sure you don’t tweak for hours without thinking of your whole track and how it should sound in the end. It’s easy to lose hours when not thinking the way, I did it – and still it’s happening too often.

  • it’s easy to mix and compress just drums and make them sound beefy and loud like in your examples. in fact, there are tons of garbage tech house sample packs with pre-compressed drum grooves that can serve the exact same purpose as having loops like these

    how about you throw in some vocal samples? and a couple chords? and a bassline? and some reverb? maybe show a distortion heavy track with elements that are difficult to fit into the mix? and maintain the quality throughout an entire track? i’m not trying to bust your chops or give you a hard time for the sake of it, but there are many tutorials online that say “hey guys check it out, mixing and compressing is a really easy way to make your drums sound massive. check this example out for instance!” and then they loop a generic tech house beat with the cleanest and easiest to mix percussion and call it a day while not really proving nor teaching much

    i’m new to your site and am always open to any good tutorials or knowledge that others have to share though, so keep on writing articles. i especially liked the seventh tip on exploring transients more

  • ” ….we’d definitely recumbent exploring the higher reaches…..”

    Darn that auto spell correct!

  • Compresión is more important than eq…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You currently have an ad blocker installed

Attack Magazine is funded by advertising revenue. To help support our original content, please consider whitelisting Attack in your ad blocker software.

Find out how