To Sidechain or not to Sidechain?

Greetings music lovers!


Side-chaining is assuming an ever growing importance in my production work, so I decided to elaborate a list with some of the techniques I know, for the readers of my blog and for myself.  For those of you not familiar with sound engineering, what we are talking about  is using an external signal to trigger the compression of another signal (very clear now…).


  1. Using a kick to duck the attack of another instrument: that’s a classic use, works great with bass, pads etc. One thing I could add about this method is that adjusting the decay time of the trigger signal (the kick probably) could save you a lot of headache in adjusting attack and release time of the compressor. Really makes wonders, helps you fine tune the compression and obtain the effect you are looking for.
  2. Using a rhythmic pattern of one instrument to sidechain another instrument: for example using a rimshot pattern as a trigger while compressing a clap pattern. Especially if the pattern you are compressing is a fixed one, say 1/8th or 1/16th note, that would make cool shifts in level along the trigger pattern. Might need to shift the compressed pattern in time to obtain the desired effect.
  3. Using a trigger to sidechain a reverb: that can generate a world of cool FX, using the good old kick or some funky percussion.
  4. Using sidechain comression on the entire mix: now that’s a tricky one. You should be able to monitor on two separate busses, because you will have to take out some of your tracks out of the master mix, the kick for instance. This can help build a nice overall sound for your mix, used with moderation. This brings up various issues, as not all sound cards will support multiple buss outputs. Also, if you’re used to monitor your mix with some master limiting on the master buss, you won’t be able to do that as the output will be split in two busses. I haven’t yet found a satisfying solution to this with my RME Fireface uc (using Ableton Live), because you can set up a digital loop with an ADAT cable but I already use this for the meter feed…so, I’ve been improvising 🙂

This is what comes to my mind at the moment. An important point is that these are all creative uses as opposed to traditional signal processing, where sidechain is used to smoothly compress a given signal. In a way this is the opposite of the use I have been writing about, which is mainly used in electronic music production technique, because here we are looking to create a special effect, while in the traditional use the purpose would be to smoothly compress a signal and eliminate artifacts.

Will update this list if anything else comes to mind…

Happy whatever it is you prefer,