Updated 7/11/16

In Dance music production, the use of pump compression is now widespread- here’s how it’s done…

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression

Abuse of musical gear (i.e. using it in ways it wasn’t intended) has underpinned nearly every modern musical movement.

Rock was born out of players overdriving their amps, Jazz players constantly pushed to find ways of squeezing new sounds out of their instruments, metal drummers adopted jazz drumming techniques to play faster, extreme, technical parts- the list goes on.

Electronic Dance Music is littered with examples in this regard. The genre was born out of musicians using out of favour analogue synths and drum machines, and using samplers to create other worldly effects that were a far cry from the realism intended for these tools.

More recently, one of the techniques adopted by many is the use of sidechain compression to create a dramatic pumping effect. This technique sounds a bit like the kick drums overwhelm all other sounds, giving the impression of something played at incredibly high volume.

In actual fact (if I remember rightly…), the reason for this is that it mimics how the human ear copes when subjected to incredibly high volumes. Thus, pump compression can replicate the effects of a track played at high volume at low volume. Well, that’s the theory… 😉

It can make a whole track pump dramatically, however, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

And, it’s all achieved with side chain compression. Here’s how to do it in Reason…

Propellerhead Reason 9

Pump up the volume…?

To demonstrate this, we’re using a track with a simple, four-to-the-floor drum pattern, and some long, pad-like chords. Once you know how to do it, the world is your oyster, of course.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - Thor

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - Redrum

1. We’ve created a Thor synth for the chord sound, used a Redrum for our drums and another Thor for the bass sound, triggered via an RPG8 Arpeggiator (using the chord pattern as input).

We’ve put a chord pattern that is based around a pattern of whole note length chords, with a simple four-to-the-floor kick drum pattern on the Redrum.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - MClass Compressor

2. This technique uses side chain inputs on compressors to trigger compression when the kick drum plays. Essentially, we want everything other than the kick drum to be compressed and reduced in level on each kick drum hit.
So, first of all, right click on each of the Thors, and create an M-Class compressor for each.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - M-Class Sidechain

3. Normally, the thing that triggers compression is the input signal (i.e. that which will be compressed) crossing the threshold level. The side chain on a compressor like the M-Class (it’s on the reverse, so hit tab to flip the rack) allows the user to use another external signal to trigger the compression.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression Spider Rear

We need to feed the kick drum into our side chain, but still be able to hear it. To do this we, create a Spider Audio Merger/ Splitter underneath the Redrum. Tab to flip the rack, and you’ll see a merge section to the left and a splitter section to the right.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - Spider to Redrum

The leftmost L and R connections in the splitter section are the inputs. Connect these to the individual output for your kick drum on the reverse of the Redrum.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Remix Channel

4. You won’t be able to hear your kick drum any more, so you’ll need you run it into another mixer channel. Right click your Spider unit, then select a Mixer Input Channel from the utility menu.

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - Spider to Input Channel

5. The connections to the right of the inputs on the Spider are the outputs (L on the top, with a corresponding R channel underneath).

Take the first L and R output pair, and plug them into the input of your newly created input channel. Your kick drum should reappear when you play it back. Woo-hoo!

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - Spider To Side chain

6. Now, we need to feed this into the side chain inputs of our compressor. So, take one pair of Spider outputs into the side chain of the Thor playing chords, and another into the Thor playing bass. Nearly there…

Dance Music Production Techniques – Pump Compression - M-Class Compressor Settings

7. All that remains to be done is to tweak the compressor settings to taste. The lower the threshold, and the higher the ratio, the more dramatic the effect will be. In addition, you’ll want to set the attack time fairly low, and the release time fairly high, to maximise the audible effect.

If the compression happens too quickly, you’ll barely notice it- desirable in some circumstances, but not this one 😉

If you want to really exaggerate the effect, aside from having a really low threshold and high ratio, you can try adding a reverb between the Thor and the compressor. This way, the compressor will squash the expected reverb tails, too.

If you want to have a play with the effect, you can download the Reason project files below (v.6.5 or above), along with audio files demonstrating the effect, too.

Audio Files – Dry, Pump Compression, and Pump Compression With Reverb

Reason Project Files – Pump Compression, and Pump Compression With Reverb