Should You Be Using Sidechain Compression?
If you're new to Music Production you may have heard of Sidechain Compression.
But are you sure you know what that all entails and whether or not you should be utilizing it in your own mixes?
First things first, sidechaining is the process of using the output of one track in your project to control the action of a different track. This is all done using one thing, a compressor/limiter.
Important note: sidechaining can also be used with gates, but in this article we will specifically be discussing sidechaining with compressors/limiters. We will be touching on this in a future article, so stay tuned!
Most DAW’s today come equipped with compressors/limiters that will allow you to add a sidechain input.
Sidechaining can be used a few different ways in your productions, and you have the option of using it lightly or really slamming it!
Let's break it down below.
Table Of Contents
Sidechaining is essentially clearing room on one track to make another track have more room to breathe. With vocals typically being integral to a song, it's good to make sure the vocal line is heard clearly in your mix.
When making room for your vocals using a sidechain, you’ll want to have the competing music decrease slightly, and then come back to full volume rather quickly after the word being sung has stopped.
You can do this by manipulating certain controls on the compressor/limiter.
Try using a low ratio setting and fast release so the compressor/limiter isn’t engaged too long, almost making it hard to tell the difference to the average listener.
You don’t want people to notice that the music underneath the vocal track is ducking immensely, but you do want the listener to hear the lead vocal as clear as possible.
This technique is used in many genres, but you can find it being used mainly in pop music.
Making Room for Drums
The kick drum often competes with the bass since they usually live around the same frequency spectrum. Depending on the genre, it’s nice when you can feel the kick, rather than hearing it.
This won't necessarily work for every genre though. Sometimes it’s just not something that you want to stand out so much in a mix.
Two genres where having the kick really punch through the mix works are dance music and Hip-Hop. People will be dancing and jumping to the beat of the kick and bass in those genres more so than rock.
Sidechaining so the snare can pop through the mix is also a great use of this tool. While it may not be used as often or as in as many genres, for certain tracks it really brings the snare to life.
Punching Through Synths
Sidechaining the kick and snare is very popular in this style of music. You’ll find that this really gives a nice groove to the song as the synths duck when the kick and snare come in.
This gives the listener the immediate reaction to bob their head to the music! Sometimes, producers will even sidechain the drums to more than one or two tracks to really get the “pumping” feeling going.
For dance tracks with a four-on-the-floor drum pattern, sidechaining multiple tracks of synths, bass, and percussion can create the groove that the overall track needs so it’s not so straight feeling.
After all, when it comes to dance tracks, you want the listener to have the feeling of the song, so sidechaining is a great tool for that.
Start Using Sidechaining in Your Mixes
As you’ve learned, the use of sidechaining isn’t only used to make room for things to stand out in the mix; it’s used to create a groove as well. Ducking musical elements in tracks will give your song more life.
As with any song, there is no preset that will work each and every time for what you’re trying to achieve, so use this tool in its own manner for each individual track or song you make.
Get creative with your sidechaining on sounds you may not have thought it could be useful for. “Happy accidents” in producing may help create an amazing track.
Want to jump-start your music production career?
Blogs and articles (like this one you're reading right now) can be incredibly helpful and insightful, but you know it comes down to application. Sometimes when you read or watch something it makes so much sense, but then when you go to do it yourself, you fumble and falter.
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