What Is Sidechain Compression? 5 Top Production Sidechaining Tips

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Ever wondered what sidechain compression is or how top dance music producers apply it in their music? Sidechaining can often be a difficult topic for music production newbies to digest.

We’ve broken down several sidechain compression workflows in this video into bite-sized practical examples, to help you understand how sidechain compression works, and also to learn how to get the most out of creative sidechaining workflows in production.

In this video you will learn how to:

  • (0:40) Create classic sidechain pumping
  • (6:38) Produce dynamic reverb and delay effects
  • (10:32) Trigger modulation effects in Kaleidoscopes
  • (13:13) Set up dynamic EQ ducking to carve out space automatically
  • (15:26) Create a sidechain filter for use with any compressor in mixing and mastering

What Is Sidechain Compression?

Sidechaining involves some routing which takes an output from one signal (or a portion of it) to influence the dynamic behaviour somewhere else in a mix.

Many producers rely heavily on sidechain compression, especially when that trademark pumping effect ubiquitous in EDM production is needed for bounce and movement.

The pumping effect is typically the first example many producers think of first in discussions of sidechain compression. But did you know there are at least four other creative sidechaining applications you can explore in a mix?

In this video we show you 5 powerful production sidechain compression techniques you can use across full mixes, masters, effect returns and individual tracks.

In addition to the video tutorial at the top of this article, we have also provided simple step-by-step guides below to help you get set up fast with sidechain compression routing in your DAW.

1. Create Classic Pumping Sidechain Compression Effects

how to make a mix pump using sidechain compression sidechaining pumping effect

how to make a mix pump using sidechain compression sidechaining pumping effect.

Follow the simple steps below to learn how to set up routing for pumping sidechain compression in your DAW:

  • Locate your kick drum track. (You will need to separate this if your kick is part of an audio loop or MIDI clip.)
  • Insert an empty mono bus on the kick track. (Set the level of this bus to unity and enable pre-fade.)
  • For good housekeeping, name this bus "Pump Effects."
  • Establish which track or collection of instruments you would like to pump.
  • On that track, or sub mix, insert a compressor that provides a sidechain input such as Renaissance Compressor.
  • Assign the sidechain input within this compressor to "Pump Effects."
  • Set threshold, ratio, attack and release controls to taste.

2. Create Sidechain Dynamic Reverb Ducking Effects

What are dynamic effects? How to use sidechain compression to make reverb and delay throws

What are dynamic effects? How to use sidechain compression to make reverb and delay throws.

Dynamic reverb ducking is a helpful sidechain compression application, as ambiences levels are ducked based on an incoming key input signal. The results can be used for creative rhymical effects on single shot hits, which can be dialed in to make snares sound more explosive. Ducking ambience effect returns with sidechain compression can also help make a little space in a mix, if you feel certain tracks are competing too much for attention.

This application of sidechain compression achieves that distinctive ducking effect we hear in EDM, known as pumping. Producers typically use their main kick drum channels as the driving beat force behind this effect

Follow the steps below to learn how to set up dynamic effects routing in your DAW:

  • Locate the track you wish to apply dynamic effects to (such as a lead vocal or guitar channel).
  • Insert an empty mono bus on this track. (Set the level of this bus to unity and enable pre-fade.)
  • For good housekeeping, name this bus "Dynamic Effect."
  • Set up an effects return with a reverb or delay plugin inserted:
    • Create a stereo auxiliary track
    • Insert a reverb or delay plugin
    • Set the input of this channel to an available stereo bus; and
    • Insert this bus within your vocal or guitar track's send's section
  • Insert a compressor that provides a sidechain input on the effects return auxiliary after the reverb or delay plugin.
  • Assign the sidechain input within this compressor to the "Dynamic Effect" bus.
  • Increase the level of the bus sent to the effects return on your vocal or guitar track.
  • On the compressor, set threshold, ratio, attack and release controls to taste.

3. Trigger Modulation Effects in Kaleidoscopes Using Sidechain

How sidechain compression triggers effects Kaleidoscopes sidechaining tips

How sidechain compression triggers effects Kaleidoscopes sidechaining tips.

Kaleidoscopes provides an intuitive trigger section which enables producers to turn modulation effects on and off during performances based on a sidechain input.

Unlike the other sidechaining examples in this article, you don’t need a compressor here, but you will need to create an extra audio track, in order to define the sections in your performance you want triggered.

Follow the steps below to learn how to trigger modulation effects within Kaleidoscopes:

  • Insert Kaleidoscopes on the track you wish to process.
  • Select SC (sidechain) within either of Kaleidoscopes' two trigger sections that you wish to trigger on and off.
  • In the same trigger section, select reTRIGGER from the dropdown menu.
  • Go to your DAW's main timeline/edit window
  • Create a new empty audio track beneath the track the that has Kaleidoscopes. THis is the track you wish to affect.
  • Name this new track "Trigger."
  • Select elements from within the main track's waveform. These will act as triggers. Copy these down to the blank "Trigger" track.
  • Mute the "Trigger" track as you will not need to hear the audio from this channel in your mix.
  • Insert an available bus on the "Trigger" track. For good housekeeping, name this bus "KS Trigger." (Set the level of this bus to unity and enable pre-fade.)
  • Select "KS Trigger" from the sidechain input within Kaleidoscopes.
  • Set modulation controls to taste.

4. Carve Out Space Automatically to Reduce Clashing Frequencies: Dynamic EQ And Sidechain Compression

how sidechain compression on dynamic EQ plugins can carve out space in a mix

how sidechain compression on dynamic EQ plugins can carve out space in a mix.

Setting an external sidechain in a dynamic EQ on a track from a lead vocal or instrument, you can attenuate cluttered frequencies somewhere else in a mix – but only when that lead element plays.

As the sidechain sees the vocal signal, it will duck the problematic frequencies you have chosen as they cross the threshold. This will help you make room for the vocal when you need it, without resorting to static EQ (which affects your entire mix, even when the vocal is not there) or to automation (which is time-consuming to create).

Follow the steps below to automatically carve out space in a mix by triggering dynamic EQ with sidechain:

  • Insert a dynamic EQ such as F6 on the track you wish to process.
  • Insert an available mono bus on the track you need to hear more of. (Set the level of this bus to unity and enable pre-fade.)
  • Name this bus "SC Focus" for good housekeeping.
  • Select "SC Focus" from the F6 EQ's sidechain key input.
  • In F6, select EXT (external) from SC source, within any of the bands you wish to process.
  • Dial in frequency, Q, gain, range, threshold, attack and release values to taste.

5. Use Sidechain Filters to Avoid Pumping Artifacts When Using Bus Compression in Mastering

how to set up a sidechain filter for any compressor plugin in a mix sidechaining pro user tips

how to set up a sidechain filter for any compressor plugin in a mix sidechaining pro user tips.

Many compressors include some form of variable or fixed frequency sidechain filter. When dialed in, a sidechain filter stops energy below a certain point from influencing compressor behavior.

This is incredibly helpful when mixing or mastering bass-heavy music, helping compression sound more consistent and transparent compared to compressing full range.

Follow the steps below to reduce pumping artifacts, using a bespoke sidechain filter routing solution for use in any compressor:

  • Create a new stereo auxiliary track. Name it "Filter" and mute it.
  • Load any paragraphic EQ (such as the Renaissance EQ) on this aux track, and set a high pass (low cut) filter around 100 Hz as a starting point.
  • Insert a mono bus on this aux and name it "SC Filter.” Set the level of this bus to unity and enable pre-fade.
  • Insert any compressor plugin that provides a sidechain input.
  • Select "SC Filter" from the sidechain key input from within this compressor.
  • Next you need to get the "Filter" auxiliary track to hear your mix.
  • To do this you need to use another available stereo bus on the input of the "Filter" auxiliary and output via that same bus from tracks within your mix. You can output your entire mix with one send populating the same bus through your session. (For example, insert bus 9-10 across all send C slots in Pro Tools, with bus 9-10 being brought in on the input of the "Filter" stereo auxiliary.)
  • Now you can view both plugin windows at the same time and adjust the filter position and compressor values to taste.

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