In the last post we looked at how compressors work and the intended uses for them. Now we will look at a few ways to abuse the effects, and use them in a creative way.
Sidechaining is a commonly used method for both mixing and creative effect. With a side-chained compressor, the trigger signal is different from the affected signal. Traditionally used to dip a bassline out of the way of a kick drum, this can be used for any element within the track, or even with a trigger that is not played through to the master channel. This creates interesting opportunities for allowing elements in similar frequencies to play together, or to create interesting grooves and patterns that may not be replicable simply through arrangement. Sidechaining for mixing purposes is best done with the minimum attack time, and a release that makes sense based on the sounds affected and the tempo and style of the track. When used in a creative way, what sounds good is good.
We can also make use of upward compression, and under-threshold compression. Within Ableton, this can be achieved with the Multiband Compressor, set into a single band if desired. With upward compression, the compressor actually makes sounds that exceed a threshold louder. Depending on the sound, this can be very effective for isolating an element, mixing, or emphasis. Downward compression, below a threshold, is very useful for eliminating some background noise in a sample. This is very similar to the effect of a Gate.
Depending on the analogue type, or digital representation, the output signal can be affected beyond dynamics. This is why certain analogue compressors are sought after studio tools, the LA-2A and 1176 models being prime examples. Invented over fifty years ago, these compressors are still studio staples, due to the way they introduce slight – or overt – distortion into the signal. Modern digital models can also be purchased now, with painstaking effort put in to try to represent the analogue signal path with code.
Lastly, let’s quickly go through overdriving compressors. Certain analogue compressors are still sought after for their particular way of colouring sounds routed through them. Digital models can do this quite well now, of course not getting the analogue feel exactly right, but in a full mix, these slight differences are not usually to be worried about. Ableton’s standard Glue Compressor is a very easy way to start getting some of this effect. With the proper settings for the specific sound, the compressor will start to impart some character and warmth into the sound. Be careful to avoid clipping, in a digital environment this is something to be avoided in all but the most specific circumstances. For compressor overdriving, I often go back to the compressor in Trash 2. When the gain is set very high, the clipping and saturation that happens within the plugin can be very effective musically. The final compressor I use within my process, for distortion purposes, is RoughRider from AudioDamage. This compressor is particularly useful for taming high end with just a touch of warmth.