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The BeatTips Community Shop Talk: How Often Do You Sidechain?

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TBC Members Talk Shop About The Use Of Sidechain Compression

By D. Kelloway, Brandon F42088, and Amir Said (Sa’id)

Sidechain compression has been coming up a lot lately. In The BeatTips Community, it’s been a lead topic for several months, and in recent weeks I’ve received a number of emails about it. So I thought it would be a good idea to feature this TBC shop talk between members dKelloway and Brandon F42088.

DK:
While making hip hop/rap beats how often do you find yourself using sidechain compression w/ the kick and bassline? Lately for me I’ve been using it often. How about you?

BrandonF42088:
Not too often for hip hop beats I will sometimes have the kick trigger the threshold for a compressor on the bass if I am mixing a live hip hop track but generally not on my own tracks.

I use compression pretty lightly on my own tracks because a lot of bass samples that I have got off of records have already been compressed when they were originally recorded or mixed.

I also use a compressors sidechain for ducking when I am mixing other music or post production stuff. Sometimes I will have the vocal trigger the threshold for certain musical elements so the vocal will bring down the other music a little.
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DK:
hmm, interesting. I thought that in the 1970’s that engineers used little compression on the drums. Does this apply to the bass as well?

BrandonF42088:
It depends on the record but they did compress bass and drums too as well as other elements to some extent. If you look at some of the boards that where used to track bands in the 1970s, there are built-in compressors right on the channels as well as master bus compressors (console manufacturers like NEVE and SSL).

The compression you are talking about—I believe—is the limiting done in the mastering stage that squashes the shit out of the dynamic range of a track that is very commonly done by mastering engineers today. In the 1970s they did not use hard ceiling limiters like they do today. If you look at a record from the 1970s that has not been remastered recently and then you take that same record that has been remasterd, there is a huge difference. You will see that the remastered record sounds much louder and has way less dynamic range.

The reason for this over limiting is to compete with the loudness of records today. Look at the latest metalica record and import a track into your DAW that shit is a straight up square wave. Square waves = distortion!

Sorry I totally got sidetracked.

Anyway there is nothing wrong with using sidechain compression with samples, if it sounds better to you. On the next track I track out I will experiment with some sidechain compression with the kick and bass.

Sa’id:
For over 95% of the beats that I’ve made, I haven’t used sidechain compression. As for beats/songs that I’ve gone on to mix (by a mix engineer or myself), I have used sidechain compression.

As my own general rule, I try to avoid—as much as possible—what I consider to be mix treatments in the beatmaking phase of recording. What I mean by “mix treatments” are measures and methods that I consider to be typically reserved for the mix stage of recording.

For one thing, I’m pretty tuned into (no pun intended) to the sort of sounds (textures) that fit my style and overall sound. Therefore, when I sample—either from a record or such, or even myself playing live—the ways in which I chop (truncate) my samples often keeps me from having to use a measure like sidechain compression. Reason why? I know my drum sounds, particularly my kicks, which means I already have a good idea of which of my kicks will “turn up the bass,” that is to say, make the bass part’s signal (or any other sound) too hot. Thus, when I’m crafting a beat, I’m very mindful of both the sound, feel, and signal that the elements I’m using are giving off.

So before I even track into my DAW (in this case, Pro Tools 7), I’ve already “tucked” my kick or smoothed out my bass parts in a way in which one element is not slamming the harder, making sidechain compression unnecessary for me in the beatmaking stage.

Now, that being said, once I’ve tracked everything into my DAW, there are some instances in which I will apply sidechain compression. But even then, the times that I do so is far and few between. The reality for me is, if I didn’t focus so much on customizing and thus knowing my drum sounds, I might find that I need to use sidechain compression more often. But because I can hear when a kick of my is slamming or something spiking in certain parts, I like to make the adjustments before I track into my DAW.


The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
“The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education.”

Articles, Beatmaking, Editor's Choice, Recording, Mixing, and Mastering, Sound Design, The BeatTips Community (TBC), Themes, Theories, and Concepts

About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • Fantastic tips indeed, thank you!!!

  • Distrakt, whatup!
    Thanks for the comment.
    Yo, where have you been? Hit me up family. (Matter fact, send me your phone number, too.)
    -Sa’id