36 – Let’s Talk Compression

Let’s start talking about Compression. In one of my previous tutorials, I showed a way you could use Kong to parallel compress a Kick Drum. So that was one method. But here are a few others that everyone should know about, especially if you’re working on most dance music genres.

Let’s start talking about Compression. In one of my previous tutorials, I showed a way you could use Kong to parallel compress a Kick Drum. So that was one method. But here are a few others that everyone should know about, especially if you’re working on most dance music genres.

Sidechain Compression (aka: “Ducking” or “Gating”)

This is a basic concept that everyone should know. But the twist is that we’ll use Kong, instead of Redrum, to compress a Thor bassline. This way, when the kick drum sounds, the bass is compressed and “ducks out” of the mix. This ensures the Kick drum cuts through the bass in your track.

Compression can also be used for other things as well. It does not have to be confined to a Kick drum and Bassline. You can use any sound source to duck out any other sound source and create a pumping rhythm like this. For instance, you can use a Kick drum to compress your main synth line. This can create some interesting gating effects if used properly.

Parallel Compression

Parallel Compression occurs when you mix a dry sound source together with that same sound source which has been compressed. In this way you get a wider, fatter sound, and you also get the flexibility of controlling the mix between the dry and wet signals. I put together a video to show you how Kong can be used in a Parallel Compression scenario on YouTube. However, why don’t I show you another way you can use a Redrum to parallel process a Kick Drum (a very common usage of this technique), or an entire set of drums (this is a little more unorthodox because you would usually parallel compress one drum at a time, but just to show you that you have options. . . ). Here’s the video:

Frequency-Based Compression

This approach is a little different, but the concept is similar. A lot of times, you might have a specific frequency that you want to “duck” out of the mix. One method you can use is Frequency-based compression, where you compress only a specific frequency in your mix. This is usually used to remove an unwanted sound, and probably the most popular usage for this kind of compression is “de-essing” where those nasty sibilant “S” sounds are removed from vocals. This is really childs play with Reason and the M Class EQ and Compressor devices. Let’s take a look at how it’s done:

As an alternative to using the M Class Eq device, you can use the BV512 Vocoder. In this way, the sound is colored slightly (and moreso if you use the 512 FFT setting), but it’s still a legitimate way that has its own technique. You can see the video of it below. Try it out. You might come to like this method.

Multi-Band Compression

Of course, there’s also something called “Multi-band Compression” which takes the EQ frequency idea to an extreme. This is usually applied to the whole mix at the end of the signal path, before going to the audio outputs. In this way, you set up multiple compressors each affecting a specific range of frequencies. The concept is not entirely difficult, depending on how many compressors you want to set up. For a really great introduction to multi-band compression, I would advise you to check out James Bernard’s week 7 video tutorial on Multi-Band Compression. In addition, James also has a complete multi-band toolkit available as a free download. So go check it out now if you haven’t already!

So that’s it. I’m sure there are other creative ways you can use Compression, but I hope that begins to inspire you to look at compression as a useful dynamic processing tool or even special effect. If you have any comments on this or any other tutorials, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “36 – Let’s Talk Compression”

  1. It’s good to use Sidechain and Parallel Compression in the same time on track ?

    For example. I have kick , with parallel compression and bass/pad which is compressed by this kick.
    What kick I I should use to do sidechain compression on my bass/pad ?
    It should be clear kick , parallel compressed or mixed ?

    1. Navi,
      It’s not “bad” to use both at the same time. There’s no good or bad when it comes to these setups. My best advice is to try out all the different variations and judge for yourself (let your ears be your guide).

      That’s a good point. I could see cases in which you would want to use both at the same time or use them separately. If you use them at the same time, you could sidechain the entire signal (both the dry/wet parallel compressed signal at once) by putting the dry and wet kick signal on a separate mixer and then sending the mixer output into a different compressor (used for sidechaining the bass), or you could sidechain compress only the dry or only the wet signal. But your question is how to decide, and that’s a very subjective issue and depends on what sounds better FOR YOU! It’s also going to depend on a few other factors: for example, if you sidechain using the wet signal, do you have any other insert FX in your wet signal that change the wet kick drum.

      Think of it this way: if you have the exact same kick drum sound coming through the dry and wet signal (they are equal), then using both or just one of those signals will have the exact same effect on the bass ducking. If, on the other hand, the wet signal is not only compressed, but you have a delay signal in there which changes the sound of the wet kick drum so that it has a delay on it, then if you sidechain using that wet signal, the bassline is going to be ducked along with the kick’s delay, not with the original kick signal. This will be a different ducking effect than if the original (dry signal is used). Either sidechain method is valid, depending on the sound you want to get out at the end.

      Try out all 3 situations (both / dry kick / wet kick) and see what sounds better to your ears. Then you’ll know what sounds better for your track. Don’t be afraid to use different setups in different situations as well. Different types of music and tracks frequently require different setups.

      The important thing to realize is what the sidechain is doing. It’s simply following the signal you feed into it and ducking accordingly. How you use it is totally up to you.

      I hope that helps.

  2. What websites or where can I go to find and learn more about mastering my songs? I’m looking to go to school for recording eingineering ( I’m currently a sophmore in high school ) and I’m trying and willing to learn as much as I can, but I really want to know how to put the finishing touches on a song. Can someone help me or point me in the direction please? I would highly appreciate it, thanks.

  3. Hi!! I have a challenge for you. Is there any way one can make a negative-ratio compression within Reason 5? I need that to make clearer vocals with no background noises. I tried to use Thor for this but I guess I still lack skill with Reason to do such things. Are there any pros out there who can accept such challenge and point out a few ideas how one can do that in Reason? Thanxxx!

    1. Oleg,
      You’re asking for an expander. Or rather, something that works opposite to a compressor by expanding the dynamic range of your audio. Keeping in mind there are some limitations to what you can do with the audio once you have it recorded (it’s always better to get the best possible recording you can), try out the “Peff Hexpressor Master Suite” in the Factory Sound Bank. That should give you the effect you want by expanding the audio for you.

      Also look up All Effect Patches > Dynamics > Vocals and you will see several vocal combinators that are built to help you out with vocals. The De Esser combinator patch in particular is important because it’s essentially doing what you want, but in reverse. It’s removing the frequencies of the “s” sound from the vocals. What you want to do is remove everything EXCEPT the vocals in your patch. The key is to find the frequency range of your vocals and then filter out everything else using the EQ device. You could modify this kind of patch to meet your needs.

      Try looking there first. Chances are that if you’re trying to accomplish something in Reason, someone else has found a solution and added it into the Factory Sound Bank. So that should be the first place you look.

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