Salutations and greetings IDMings! This is our new column called ‘Tricks from the Pro’s’ where I’ll take you through some common, but sometimes unknown tricks of the production trade.
Diving straight into it, side-chaining is all about making one sound reduce in volume when another plays. You can do this manually in a lot of DAWs (digital audio workstations) by simply taking your volume automation and pulling down a sound every time the other one is playing. Simple as that! So, as a running example, take your kick drum and a pad sound (because it’s easy to hear) and every time your kick plays, reduce the volume in your pad. It sounds like your pad is pumping in and out with the kick. Although more precise and adjustable, this is time consuming to do:
To automate this process, engineers tend to have the external source sound (the kick in our example) trigger a compressor that is inserted on the effected sound (the pad). You need to know a little about how compressors work to do this, and you need to have one that is side-chain compatible. That is, it can receive a signal from a buss that is used as the input signal to the compressor:
In this example, I set up a compressor on the pad (the channel with the Xpand2 insert). I then sent a bus (Buss 1 in the pic) from the kick (an 808 from Kontakt3) into that compressor and set up the compressor to compress the pad with a fast attack and release to get the pad coming in and out as the kick plays. On the compressor, you’ll see a little key in the top left that contains Buss 1; this is our side-chain buss. On the top right, you’ll see the side-chain section with the little key highlighted, which means that the side-chain is in use and using Buss 1 (you can also set up filters, so that certain frequencies trigger the compressor too). The compressor then acts on the kick’s signal but is compressing the pad.
Mix engineers tend to use this a lot but in miniscule degrees such as having some non-essential sounds duck every time the vocal comes on and so on. You can also use it on reverbs and delays to create very interesting effects.
Play long and prosper! Resistance to better sound is futile!
Jonathan Shaw is a professional record producer who has worked with a multitude of artists and record labels in a freelance capacity. Outside this, he lectures music business at the University of the Witwatersrand and provides business consultation to the music industry.
Written By : Jonathan G Shaw