Please do not be one of these compression whores who lay down compressors on every channel for the sake of compressing. Try to understand when something needs compressing and when it does not. What is compression? In short -Compression is simply lessening the dynamic range, or reducing the range between the quietest and loudest part of the signal. Try to figure out what sounds need compression and why.
Sidechain compression is used heavily in dance music. From ducking drums to synths to pads to white noise, you name it. Personally I do not like sidechain compression. Do not get confused here, I like to sidechain, however; I do it as more of a volume automation rather than using a compressor - find what works for you. I like to compressors for reasons other than sidechaining - like controlling problem frequencies, reducing the dynamic range of drum loops or controlling the bass a little better. In essence sidechaining is triggering a sound to ‘duck’ or achieve gain reduction at a desired time. Now in dance music this is generally to get a sound to duck when the kick hits but trust me you can use other techniques, for example you can slightly duck synth lines when vocals come in, therefore; sidechaining the synth to the vocal.
I have recently been using the ‘Kickstart’ plug-in from sonic academy in conjunction with Nicky Romero, but I also use LFO tool by Steve Duda because you can draw the shape of your sidechain. It is not essential to have these tools; you can get the same effect from simply drawing in volume automations.
Try to find what suits you. If you want to see exactly how sidechaining works there are hundreds of detailed videos or articles online. Essentially the compressor is triggered by a sound. To save confusion we will roll with kick and bass. The compressor on the bass channel is triggered to compress the bass when the kick hits. The result creates plenty of room for the kick to push through and creates a pumping effect on the bass. The beauty of using a compressor to sidechain is there are many parameters you can toy with to try craft the desired amount of ‘sucking’. Experiment with different thresholds and release times.
Buss Compression, Single & Multiband Compression
The bare essentials of buss compression are the same as any other compression only in this case the compression we apply will be to a whole group of instruments. The term ‘buss’ just means group, or where all the different instruments are grouped together. Buss compression is great for ‘gluing’ things together. Take a drum track for example: if you group all your drums together and add some buss compression the resulting sound takes on a lot more of a consistent dynamic sound. There is a lot more natural cohesion between the sounds and you will also enjoy a higher perceived volume. You can experiment with using both single band compressors and multi-band compressors.
Single band compressors will affect the whole sound and multiband compressors enable you to choose which frequency ranges you want compression to be applied. I should also state that multiband compressors are not limited to buss compression, you can use these compressors the same as any other single band compressor.
Multiband compressors are great as they essentially use several compressors all acting on different frequency ranges; this can be a great tool in reducing the dynamic range yet not colouring the whole sound. You can be more surgical with multiband compressors as they allow you to hone in on problem areas of the sound, however; you may get slightly less cohesiveness on the overall sound as you do with a single band compressor. For me I like to use Cytomic ‘The Glue’ as my buss compressor. You could say I am more a fan of single band compressors. I have heard fantastic things about the Fab filter Pro-MB, unfortunately I have not had the joy of experimenting with that thus far, however; the demo videos look great. How about that Fab Filter produces another amazing plug-in? Who’d a thought!
Parallel & Serial Compression
Parallel compression is essentially making a duplicate of your sound, in this case we will say a drum buss or channel where we have routed all our drums. By making a duplicate it is now open to mix these two signals together. We can apply compression to one of those signals and not the other. So in essence we now have a completely dry signal and a compressed signal. This allows us to experiment with different settings on the compressed signal as we can blend them together with the dry signal. Try using more aggressive settings and see how this makes the drum track really punch. This is really cool because the original signal keeps its character but is reinforced with a compressed signal to really give it some beef. Experiment with using this technique on different instruments. You can also change your wet / dry knob on your compressor to play with the ratio between dry and compressed signal.
Serial compression means using multiple compressors on the same channel. Sometimes you get far better results by using multiple compressors rather than using one to do all the work, the result is much more transparent. Of course doing this the compressor settings will be a lot more subtle. Although I do not recommend it, I have heard stories of guys stacking 6 compressors on their master chains, a bloke by the name of Laidback Luke.....maybe you have heard of him :) - How this works I cannot fathom but the bloke get great sales on Beatport and tours the world so fair play to him. For me this encapsulates how there really are no rules to making music. Different compressors give slightly different character to your sound, therefore; stacking some different ones onto an effects channel can come up with some good results, I have used this technique well on bass lines. Having said that, make sure it is subtly done, honestly hearing tracks that are far to compressed really fatigues the ears. Unfortunately these days it seems the ‘science’ is to smash everything with compressors. Dynamics……where are you hiding?
Final note - Leave at least some dynamic range - peoples ears will thank you for it.