For those of you writing electronic music there are some tricks of the trade that will help your track sound a little better. Besides the obvious arrangement tricks, compression is a very important tool. However, compression is often a misunderstood and misused.
For dance music the bass and the kick are two very important elements that both need to sound clear and loud to get people moving. A lot of times people will just compress the fuck out of both but then you just have a square wave mess. The kick especially will sound crappy if you over compress it just because of how speakers work, you need that big initial THUD, not a sustained wave. Often times you’ll end up having to reduce the level of the bass track to get the kick to pop but then your bass sounds weak.
How do you get around this tricky problem? Side-band compression.
Have some side-band compression setup so when the kick track hits (you DO have a seperate kick track right?) the bass gets compressed. Use a ratio of about 4:1or maybe even 8:1. Make sure the attack time is very fast so it will trigger right when the kick hits and use a fast release time as well, that way the bass has time to breathe in between kicks.
This trick will give you some more overall headroom out of your track so you can get a little louder without clipping and your bottom end stays clear instead of distorted.
I’ll also use some gentle multi-band compression along with EQ in the mastering phase but this is something that can easily be abused.
Less is generally better. Also the mastering process changes a bit depending on the genre of music you’re working with and the target delivery medium.