Production Technique #3

Side-Chain Compression — The Effect Chain Edition

What Is It?

This technique takes the core concept behind side-chain compression and applies it to any number of effects chains that we might want to ‘tame.’

First though, let’s clarify what side-chain compression is:

Now that we have a grasp on side chain compression, let’s apply the principle to our context…

In the video above, Justin Colletti uses a compressor to ‘duck’ various instruments each time his kick drum plays. Essentially he is making space for the kick to jump through his mix, which may otherwise be smeared over.

With effects chains, the same effect can be created, but instead of using compression to duck instruments, we will be using it to duck reverb and delay.

Why Do You Want It?

According to Music Radar, side-chain compression can rein in ‘lengthening’ effects like reverb and delay, which might otherwise overpower individual sounds and indeed a whole mix if left unchecked.

Reverb for example, is especially great for creating space. When used with long decay settings however, it can really clog up a mix, smearing over sounds which may otherwise have a desirably sharp attack. However, using a smaller reverb with a quicker decay setting may not provide the effect that we want (like a super dreamy vocal).

Using a side-chained compressor then, is a great way to control the presence of the reverb. We can still use a huge reverb setting with lots of decay, but set up the compressor such that during busy sections of a mix, the reverb is ‘ducked,’ perhaps barely perceptible; but when there is silence in a mix, the reverb pokes through filling the space with our luscious reverberation.

nuff said

The Setup

Native Finn, Ilpo Karkkainen of, offers this plan to achieve our result:

  1. Set up a reverb on a return channel (this might be called an aux/bus depending on the DAW)

2. Use a reverb with a really long tail. Also make sure the reverb is set to 100% wet as it is a return effect and not an insert effect.

long decay & 100% wet

3. Send some material into the return channel where the reverb is held.

send it

4. Next, insert a compressor after the reverb. The compressor must have a side-chain feature.

5. Activate the side-chain and choose the source signal; in our example, we will use the vocal track as our source.

6. Adjust the settings of the compressor and the reverb to taste.

sprinkle, sprinkle


Below are some examples which should help illustrate the difference this technique could make.

  1. The first clip is the original, dry vocal.

2. The second clip is the same vocal, but laden with heavy amounts of both reverb and delay. There is no compression applied yet.

3. The final clip has the same processing as in 2, but with the side-chain compression engaged, ducking and releasing as the vocal waxes and wanes.