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In this first installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows how to improve the sound of a mix with compressors, limiters, gates, de-essers, and other dynamic processors. The course explains the fundamentals of sound waves, and amplitude, explores common compressor controls, and shows how to eliminate unwanted noise using gates and expanders. The course also demonstrates best practices in compression and limiting in a variety of audio applications and covers sculpting the attack and decay of individual notes with transient shapers and applying frequency specific dynamics control with multiband compressors. Exercise files accompany the course and include special Get in the Mix session files.
Up until now, we've worked with the compressor by feeding the signal we wish to compress directly into the threshold circuit of the compressor, but what if you could control the compression of one signal using the dynamics of another? Listen to the swell of the synth pad to the beat of the kick drum. The kick drum is triggering the swell on the pad. (music playing) We'll discuss how to set this up specifically within your DAW in the next movie.
The technique of controlling one's signal dynamics using another signal's interaction with the compressor's threshold is called side chaining. Instead of the compressor listening and reacting to the input signal, the processor is told to listen to another signal, known as the key, and base its compression decisions on that. One of the most common uses of side chains is ducking. Think about when a radio DJ talks over the music he's playing and how the music seems to automatically turn itself down, much quicker than a human can react with their hand on the volume fader.
This is a basic example of side-chain compression. By using the announcer's voice to trigger compression on the music, the music is compressed, or turned down, whenever the announcer speaks. Because no makeup gain is used, the result is an automatic attenuation of the signal whenever the announcer chooses to drop in. Most dynamics processors feature side chain or key inputs, and most DAWs feature an easy way to tap into their power. Again, the concept to understand here is that we're feeding only the detection circuit of the dynamics processor with another signal, and the side-chain signal, or key, is not getting compressed, but merely telling the compressor how to work on the target signal.
Side chains can be used for utility purposes, such as ducking and de-essing, as well as for creative and sound-design-oriented tasks. In the next movie, we'll dive into a specific example of using a side chain for creative purposes.
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