Creative sidechain compression effects in Reason

Creative Sidechain Compression Effects in Reason

Last week I showed you an ultra-detailed tutorial about all the cool ways that you can trigger sidechain compression in Propellerhead Software’s Reason 9 DAW. Now that you know how to use sidechain compression though, I want to help you think about some creative ways that you can use it to further your sounds.

This guide includes a lot of really cool, unique sidechain compression effects. These techniques work in Reason 9, but should work in most versions.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Sidechain reverb for a rhythmic pumping effect
  • Create a free dynamic equalizer
  • Duck multiple instruments at once
  • Throw sidechain compression on a delay for other worldly effects

You can download some of these creative sidechain patches here.

Now without further ado, here’s an in-depth exploration of all the cool things that you can do in Reason with sidechain compression.

Did I miss any? What creative ways do you use sidechain compression in Reason?

Ultimate Guide to Sidechain Compression in Reason

Reason Tutorial: How to Use Sidechain Compression in Reason

Whether you’re new to Reason or an Expert, this you’ll find this Reason tutorial on how to use sidechain compression in Reason useful. I’ve been using Propellerhead’s Reason DAW for about 15 years now, and I’m going to share all of the secrets to unlocking Reason’s incredible sidechain options.

Be sure to check out this in-depth tutorial on all sorts of cool, crazy ways to use sidechain compression for cool effects!

You can download the patches I use for free here.

This Reason tutorial is going to start simple, explaining what sidechain compression is and offering simple examples. You can skip directly to whatever section you might find useful.

  1. What is sidechain compression?
  2. 2 ways to use a source to sidechain a single sound
  3. 3 ways to use a source to sidechain multiple sounds
  4. How to use a loop to trigger a sidechain compressor
  5. How to setup a ghost sidechain to create unique pumping sounds

I think video is probably the best way to teach DAW lessons, so I’ve put together this 30 minute guide. But if you prefer reading or are looking for a reference, keep reading

What is sidechain compression?

Before showing you how to use sidechain compression in Reason, and before even answering the question about what sidechain compression is, let’s dig into the concept of compression.

Compression is basically automated volume control. In its simplest form, if you put compression on the drums, it will turn down the loudest parts. If the peaks are reduced by 3db, this allows you to turn up entire drum track by 3db without losing clipping or interfering too much with other tracks.

The threshold control determines how much sound is needed to trigger the compressor to turn down the volume. The ratio control determines how much the volume is turned down once the threshold is crossed. The attack determines how quickly the volume is turned down, and the release determines how quickly the volume returns to normal.

For a much more in-depth guide to compression, check out the free guide by Rob Mayze.

But isn’t this Reason tutorial about sidechain compression?


So how is it different?

Well, sidechain compression, separates the sound that is being turned down and the signal to turn it down.

Say what? How would you sidechain a synth?

Basically, with sidechain compression, you can have a kick drum act as the trigger for the compressor, but the compressor turns down the volume of the synth! All of the compressor controls (threshold, ratio, attack, release) control how the kick drum triggers the compressor. But the compressor doesn’t affect the compressor. It affects the synth.

2 ways to use a source to create sidechain compression in Reason on a single sound

Ok, now let’s look at to ways of using a compressor in Reason.

The first way is the simplest, most straight forward method. This should work in Reason 5 through Reason 9.

In Reason create an mClass compressor on the channel you want to sidechain, for example, a synth. It will be automatically created as an insert effect, and by default, it will just be compressing the synth. Then you take the parallel output from your kick (or whatever sound you want to trigger the sidechaining) and connect it to the sidechain input of the compressor on the channel you want to sidechain.


Reason tutorial how to use a sidechain compressor

Reason tutorial how to use a sidechain compressor


Adjust the compressor setting until you get the sound your looking for. Voila. You’ve got a sidechain.

Another equally easy way to do this in Reason 6 and above is to take advantage of the SSL Mixer’s sidechain option. While this requires less routing, you’ll notice that the SSL Mixer gives you fewer options to control the signal. For example, it lacks an attack control, which is really important for sidechaining.

But here’s how to do it.

Take the parallel out signal from your kick, but this time connect it to the dynamics section of the synth. Connect it to the sidechain input.

How to use a sidechain compressor with the SLL console

How to use a sidechain compressor with the SLL console

The key button will light up when sidechain mode is activated. Then go to the mixer, turn on the compressor on the synth channel, and dial in your sound.

3 ways to use a source to sidechain multiple sounds

The first two methods are great if you only want to use the kick drum to trigger one synth. But what happens if you’ve got multiple sounds you’d like to sidechain? Let’s say you want the kick to control a sidechain compressor on a synth and a bass. This is one of the most useful ways how to use sidechain Compression in Reason

Don’t worry. This Reason Tutorial has you covered.

Method 1 – using a Spider Audio Merger & Splitter to create multiple audio streams.

This is probably the most straight forward method. You use one of Reason’s most useful tools (it’s under the Utilities menu), the Spider Audio Merger & Splitter.

Create the Spider in the Kick’s mix channel. Then connect the kick’s parallel output to the Spider’s to the A and B inputs on the right side of the Spider. Create an mClass Compressor on the Bass and Synth channel. Then go connect the outputs from the right side of the Spider to the sidechain inputs of both mClass Compressors.

Using spider audio splitter for multiple sidechain compressor channells

Using spider audio splitter for multiple sidechain compressor channells

If you need to side chain more signals, you can chain multiple spiders together (see the diagram) or go to the Prop Shop and get the Polymodular Splitter for free.

How to link multiple spider audio merger and splitters

Spiders on spiders!

Method 2 – Get on the Bus!

The second way how to use sidechain compression in Reason is to get one signal to use a single signal to sidechain multiple signals is to bus all the signals to a single bus, then insert a compressor on the bus channel.

For example, you could send 4 synths to the Synthesizer bus, and then use the first method to create an mClass compressor on the Synthesizer bus controlled by the kick drum.

Finally, you can setup an mClass compressor on a send effect channel. Let’s say it’s on Send 1. You can use the kick drum to trigger the sidechain. Then you could go to the mixer, and click the Send 1 button on the channels that you want to send to the compressor. If you click the “pre” button and turn down the mixer volumes, only the send level will control the volume being sent to Send 1.

This can be useful for cool sidechained send effects if you add a reverb or delay after the compressor. Or it can create a cool pumping parallel sidechain compression.

How to use a loop to trigger a sidechain compressor

But what happens if you have a drum loop that you want to use to trigger the sidechain compressor on a synth?

You can’t just set up a Rex loop to trigger the sidechain compressor on the synth, because EVERY loud hit on the drum loop will trigger the compressor.

That’s right, the snare, the kick drum, and the crashes are all going to be triggering the compressor. This is going to sound like garbage, because there won’t be a consistent rhythm the sidechain compressing.

But I’ve got you covered.

Enter the Stereo Imager

The easiest way to do this is to use the trusty MClass Stereo Imager. This let’s you split the signal into high and low frequencies.

I made an easy patch for you to use here.

But let me explain what’s going on because teach a man to fish.

To get the kick drum of a drum loop to trigger the sidechain input of a separate compressor on a synth track, create an MClass Compressor on the Synth track. Then hold down the SHIFT key, and create an MClass Stereo Imager below the Compressor.

Holding down the SHIFT makes it so that the MClass compressor is not automatically connected to other effects.

To wire in the MClass Stereo Imager, connect the parallel output from the Rex Drum track to the audio input of the Stereo Imager. Then connect the “Separate Out” section of the Stereo Imager to the “Sidechain In” of the MClass Compressor.

Using an mclass stereo imager for sidechain compression

Using an mclass stereo imager for sidechain compression

Make sure the “Lo Band” switch is flipped on the back of the Stereo Imager. Then hit Tab to flip to the front of the Stereo Imager and adjust the X-Over Frequency down to 100HZ. The X-Over frequency determines which frequencies are sent through the lo-band. So by setting it to 100HZ, only sounds below 100HZ will flow into the sidechain. This ensures that the kick drum will be driving the sidechain compression. Now you know how to use sidechain compression in Reason with loops.

How to setup a ghost sidechain to create unique pumping sounds

Sometimes, however, you want a sidechain compressor, but you don’t want to have a pounding drum track.

Thankfully, the Reason DAW is flexible enough to handle this, too.

The final great trick for triggering the sidechain compression effect in Reason is what I’d call using a “ghost” kick drum.

Now don’t get scared.

It uses the same basic technique described in part one, but the kicker (get it? Kicker?) is that the kick drum is not actually plugged into the mixer, so it doesn’t create any sound in the song.

Here’s a ghost kick drum patch you can work from.

But again, I’m gonna teach you how to fish.

So you create your synth track. Then you create an MClass Compressor. Then you hold down SHIFT (remember, no connection) and create a REDRUM drum computer. Take the stereo out portion from the REDRUM and connect them to the Sidechain In on the MClass Compressor.

How to create a ghost compressor in Reason daw

How to create a ghost compressor in Reason daw

Then flip the REDRUM around and create a patter that fits the sidechain compression you’d like.


Now you’ve got a ghost sidechain compressor.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this exhaustive (and exhausting to write) guide on how to use sidechain compression in Reason. Feel free to share it with your friends!

Can you think of any other ways of how to use sidechain compression in Reason? Let me know in the comments.

What's Wrong With Reason 9.2

My thoughts on Reason 9.2 Update

Propellerhead just released the most recent update to their Reason DAW, version 9.2. You can find my full Reason 9 Review here. Version 9.2 adds powerful back end tools for rack extension developers, allowing them to create powerful new synths and effects.

So that sounds pretty cool, right?

My first reaction was that it’s awesome, but on second thought, It troubles me slightly.

Why I Worry About Reason 9.2

First of all, while some developers have updated there Rack Extensions to take advantage of these new features, there’s no guarantee that any other developers will. This means that existing users of Reason 9 might not really see any benefit unless they buy more Rack Extensions from the Prop Shop.

Historically Propellerheads have been very good about rewarding their customers. There are probably upgrades coming for Reason 9 users.

So it’s not the end of the world. But as I noted in my Reason 9 review, there are some more pressing issues with reason that I’d prefer to see fixed first.

Reason 9.1 gave us the ability to sync with other instruments over wireless. Cool but not essential.

Reason 9.2 gives developers more power, but I’m unclear what it means for users.

I’m worried that developers will now stop creating rack extensions backwards compatible with Reason 7 and Reason 8.

Think about it for a second. As a developer, if earlier versions of Reason don’t support your RE, are you going to spend the time to develop to different versions of it?

It is going to be more cost effective to just develop for Reason 9.2+.

Similarly, if developers start upgrading their rack extensions to use the new features, will they stop supporting the older versions of the REs?

It’s really too soon to say.

Reason 9.2 is good for active users of Reason 9, but Propellerheads are really nudging users of older versions of Reason to upgrade.

What do you think about Reason 9.2? Would you upgrade to Reason 9 for it?

Use send fx the right way in propellerheads Reason

How to Use Send FX in Reason (The Right Way!)

If you don’t already know how to use send fx in Reason, then this is the tutorial for you. But even if you’ve been using send fx in Reason for a long time, I guarantee I’ve got a better way of doing things.

This simple method involves creating mix channels for you send fx, and then bussing them to a send effects buss. You get tons of instant flexibility around eq, compression, ducking, stereo width, phase and volume, plus it can be much easier to manage.

I’ve mad this video on how to use send fx in Reason, for those of you that are visual learners.

So without further ado, let’s get into it.

How to use send fx in Reason

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the whole set up is rather cumbersome and takes a few minutes to get ready. That’s why this routing is part of my default template that I load into every song.

You can download it for free here.

Reason allows a total of 8 send fx, so you’ll want to create 8 mix channels.

Then you’re going to route fx send 1 to the first mix channel, fx send 2 to the second mix channel, etc.

How to use send fx in reason routing

Just the sends, not the returns


HOWEVER —- you do not use the effect returns anymore. Each mix channel outputs sound into the SSL console, so you do NOT need to setup fx returns.

From there, you can insert whatever send effects you like for each channel. Reverb, delay, distortion. Whatevs.

The send buttons and knobs still work for each channel. So in the example below, if you hit send button 1 on the Kong channel, it will send the Kong to the reverb that lives on the Reverb 1 mix channel. The green knob on the Kong channel will determine how much signal is sent to the reverb.

How to use send fx in reason send buttons still work

The send buttons and knobs still work


However, the send return knobs on the right NO LONGER work. Instead, you control the volume of each individual channel with their faders on the SSL mixer.

The benefits of using sends as mix channels are huge.

Instead of having to create unwieldy chains of effects, you can instantly tap into the SSL channels for:

  • EQ,
  • filters,
  • compressors,
  • noise gates, and
  • stereo width functions

If you wanted do use eq and compression using the traditional method of sends in Reason, you’d have to add separate eq and compression to each effect channel. Not only would that use more of the signal processing power, it also becomes an unwieldy clutter.

But wait. There’s more.

As the final step, I buss all of my send effects to a master effects bus. This lets me be able to mute all of the effects at the click of one button instead of having to turn each track off. It also lets me control the overall effect volume easily. Plus you can apply compression, eq, filters, etc.

How to use send fx in reason master effect buss

Don’t forget to create a bust for all your send fx!

There you have it.

How to use send fx in Reason, the right way. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions for taking this to the next level!

Making Hip Hop Beats in Reason pt 1

How to Make a Hip Hop Beat in Reason

This is a quick and dirty guide on how to make a hip hop beat in Reason. If you’ve never made a beat before, don’t worry, I’ll walk you through how to make a hip hop beat in Reason easily.

If you’ve made beats before, I think there’s some tips here that will help take your hip hop beats to the next level. I’m going to show you how to tighten up your beats, and how to mix them so they full of punch and bang.

Before you start recording and mixing, though, you’ll need to know what type of beat you want.

How to make a hip hop beat in Reason: Step 1 – Deconstruct Your Favorite Beat

One of my favorite techniques is to simply listen to loops or songs you like. Here’s a list of some of the best places for free loops and samples! Once you’ve found a beat you like, deconstruct it and add your own spin to!

After you have deconstructed enough beats, you’ll start to understand what goes into a beat, and it will become easier to build your own beats from scratch.

To do this easily, create a track in Reason and import the beat you want to imitate. Alternately, if it’s a Dr. OctoRex loop, you can load one of those up and compare to it.

First try to imitate the drum beat itself.

Open up Kong, Dr. OctoRex, an NN-XT or whatever other device you want to use to play the beat.

You want to build up your beat starting with getting the kick drum correct in its placement. Then add the snare. From there, you’ll work on the hi-hats, and any accent cymbals.

Be sure to include a few variations in the patterns. Maybe just a little difference in timing, or double up a kick or snare somewhere. You can also try adding fills at the end of every few measures.

Once the groove of the beat is pretty solid, you’ll want to compare the individual drum samples you’re using to those in your reference track. That is if you’re trying to imitate the sounds. But don’t be afraid to experiment.

How to make a hip hop beat in Reason: Step 2 – Tighten Up

From here, you’ll want to tighten up your beat. This is time consuming, but one of the most important parts of creating a dope hip hop beat in Reason.

To do this, you’ll need to go into the Reason sequencer and zoom in on the notes. You’ll want to make sure each one is in the right spot. Unless you’re going for a programmed boom-bap sound, you’ll want to avoid quantizing. Otherwise, things will sound stiff and inhuman.

You’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. Note by note. But it pays off.

The other important thing to do at this step is to vary the velocity (aka volume) of your hits, to make things sound less mechanical. You can select all the notes, hit F8, and bring up the tool menu. Got to the “note velocity” sub menu, and select “random.” Try a setting of about 20% and click apply. This will randomly make all the notes increase or decrease in volume by 20%, creating a more human feel.

How to make a hip hop beat in Reason

Use the “random” tool to create more human grooves.

Then, if you feel like there’s certain parts that need more emphasis, you can manually edit the velocity to bring those parts out, like drum fills, for example.

How to make a hip hop beat in Reason: Step 3 – Mixing Punch Hip Hop Drums

This step is perhaps the least understood. I’d really recommend watching this video first. It covers how to use parallel compression, reverb, eq, and saturation to create loud punchy drums.

I think hearing the examples is the best way to demonstrate this.