9. Sidechain two elements to each other
I’ve done this exactly once, with a dueling, overlapping guitar part. But it worked! Basically, if you have two distorted guitars (or similarly fuzzy synths) that engage in a sort of call and response pattern—and yet, react/overlap in a manner that renders them indistinct in the mix—try this out:
On one guitar/synth, set the sidechain to the other’s input, and vice versa. Of course, you’ll need to toy with the attack and release constants, but if pulled off successfully, you’ll ensure that the entrance of each phrase is distinguished every time, as it’ll immediately push the other element down into the mix.
10. Sidechain the room mics to the snare
If the drummer isn’t grooving, there are tricks you can employ besides basic editing. Often sidechaining elements to the snare helps; the hi-hat is a worthy candidate for this implementation.
In situations where I want to get that super-saturated, Black Keys rock’n’roll vibe, I may go a bit further, even if the drum part is already grooving—I’ll take the room mics, slap a compressor on them, and key them to the snare.
As with all these tricks, attack and release adjustments are of the utmost importance, but successfully accomplished, this trick works wonders. You’re basically taking the atmosphere of the drum kit and making it pump, suck, and breathe in response to the snare.
To do this right, you might need to duplicate the snare onto it’s on track and gate it to get rid of the ghost notes—you only want the strong backbeat hits to trigger this pumping. You may also want to edit out any fills from this track, and of course, silence the track’s output, creating a dummy track.
11. Mix triggered compression for printing stems
Printing stems for mastering engineers, production companies, labels, and music supervisors can be par for the course in this business.
This might seem impossible if you have a complicated stereo-bus chain—and sometimes, it is. But if your processing consists of a compressor and not much else, you can still print every stem so that each one behaves roughly the same as it did in the whole mix, and the stems sum together nicely upon re-aggregation. How, you may ask? Sidechaining!
Simply mix as usual, into your bus compressor, until you like the results. Once you’re done, bypass your stereo-bus compressor and print the mix without compression. Set up a stereo dummy track, move the printed mix there, and now, take a look at your original bus compressor:
If it has sidechain inputs, you’re in luck! Just route the dummy track to the sidechain input and print your stems as you normally would. The sidechain will react to the timing of the original mix, rather than the stems, so that each group-track will be processed similarly to how they would in full-mix context.
There are some caveats to keep in mind though: any processing you put on your master bus after the compressor will either not work as it did before, or will be nullified entirely; basically, this trick works best if your bus compressor is the last processor on your mix.
Also, pay attention to how the sidechain detector works. If you’re using the emulation of a vintage unit, there’s a good chance its sidechain detector operates in mono only; if that’s the case, your compressor will react differently from how it would’ve originally. The results, in other words, will not add up. Read the product manual or do research on the original unit, and you’ll know for sure if you can use this track.
Like many of these articles, the tricks offered herein represent a small fraction of the tricks you might come up with alone on a Sunday evening, up against a deadline. It is my sincere hope that they inspire you to get started down the wonderful rabbit hole of sidechain compression.
As always, experiment to your heart’s content—but always keep your eye on serving the final mix, which ultimately serves the song’s concept and execution. That, my friend, is the key.