What is Sidechain and how does it work?
The Sidechain effect is a production technique used in a wide spectrum of music genres. For beginners in music production, this technique is key to know and you need to understand how it works, in order to get a clean mix. Sidechain in general means that an external signal triggers an audio track and at a specific Threshold one signal gets ducked down, so it makes room for another element in the same frequency spectrum. For example, when you have a Kick & Bass playing in your song you will duck down the signal of the bass when the Kick is playing to let it cut through the mix. Especially in modern dance music sidechain is one of the most important effects. To get a good mix you should sidechain elements like Leads, Bass, some drums, or vocals to your Kick drum to get a punchy and more organized mix.
However, there is more than one technique to do it and we will explain when to use them and how you can use them.
4 Different ways to Sidechain
Over the past few years, sidechain plugins like Cableguys Shaperbox or Nicky Romero`s Kickstart 2 became more popular. If you load a sidechain plugin in the mixer track of your bassline, and you know the length of your Kick Drum, you can easily dip the volume of the bass while the Kick is playing. For dance music and other 4/4 type music, these plugins are great because you can easily achieve the pumping effect or a very natural sidechaining. But be careful, a too-quick sidechain will sound muddy and a too-long sidechain will let your Kick & Bass sound loose. For beginners, this is the best way to start and learn sidechaining.
One of the older techniques of sidechaining is sidechain compression. Trackspacer, FabFilter ProC2, or your standard DAW compressor will do the job. Load in a Sidechain compressor in your bass mixer and route the Kick (or trigger sound) through it. Then you can adjust the Threshold to a point where it grabs the signal of your Kick and adjust the Attack and Release time to match it with your Kick Drum. This technique is more often used in songs where you don’t have 4/4 beats but it takes some time to fully understand and to get it sound right. So if you are a beginner definitely begin with Sidechain plugins.
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Multiband Sidechain is in fact the same as Compressor Sidechaining but has a few advantages that the normal compressor sidechain doesn’t have. You will likewise route your Kick drum to the compressor (loaded in the bass mixer) but now you can dissect the compression in different frequency spots. Through this technique, your Bass will be sidechained more in the lower frequency range and less in the upper-frequency range. Compressors like Waves C6 and FabFilter ProMB are great plugins for this effect.
Volume Sidechaining (Through automation clips)
The last technique and the easiest is probably volume sidechaining. You are basically doing the work that a sidechain plugin does but then with a volume fader or volume utility. Just create an automation clip on your bass channel and dip the volume manually to the Kick drum to a point where your Kick has enough room to cut through the bassline. This technique will help you as a beginner to understand the effect of sidechaining and will allow you to see what’s happening.
In general, the sidechain effect is great to get clean mixes, although you can use it as a creative effect. Drums Loops, Vocals, FX Loops, or Atmospheres can be side-chained too and will make your song more interesting and less static.
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Image Credits: Cableguys Shaperbox