What is Sidechain Compression? A Big Guide + 4 Plugins!

What is Sidechain Compression?

What is sidechain compression and where should we apply it? Sidechain compression is a confusing but potent tool that every producer has in their hands. In this article, we’re going to understand how to create sidechain compression to make your mixes sound perfect.

When you understand the basics of sidechaining, you can produce mixes that have more room, energy, rhythm, and separation. But before we proceed, I am guessing you are here because you would like to make music that sounds professional in your home studio.

Sidechain compression is very crucial, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.

what is sidechain compression

What is Sidechain Compression?

Sidechaining falls below the umbrella of processes referred to as compression. Whereas a sidechain might be created utilizing different instruments, like a noise gate, it’s mostly created with a compressor.

When sound engineers and audio producers throw across the term “compression”, though, they mostly imply, normally, a processing device that’s used to control audio and control a dynamic range.

Compression nearly all the time works with only one track in your mix. For example, if one of many tracks in your mix is a guitar track that performs behind some vocal tracks, you should use compression to be sure that the volume of this guitar track all the time stays within the dynamic range that you just specify.

what is sidechain compression

Any sounds in the track that fall outside of this range will likely be made louder or softer so that in the long run, you’re left with a balanced-sounding track you could then modify to fit in with the other tracks in your mix extra simply.

General, compression makes certain that your music is straightforward to listen to and doesn’t include any inequities within the tracks that distract from the general sound and the attractive music you’ve created.

Sidechaining is a sort of manipulation utilizing compression. Somewhat than merely setting a dynamic range for a track and ensuring that each sound within the track complies with it, sidechain compression provides one other level of motion to your music.

Typically working hand-in-hand with common compression, sidechaining does more than simply set a dynamic range for a single track. Sidechain compression pulls in a number of tracks out of your mix and ensures they work dynamically together.

For instance, let’s take the guitar part talked about previously. You’ve already used the compression tools to be sure that it by no means outperforms your vocal track and as an alternative stays within the background, however at some points within the mix, it would really feel a bit too quiet.

Maybe it’s getting buried by a bass drum or another percussion instrument. Sidechaining permits you to successfully link the bass drum track and the guitar track in order that they work dynamically together in harmony.

When a bass kick drum sounds, sidechaining can enable the guitar track to increase or lower inside its dynamic range to be sure that the two audio sounds are working collectively and may each play their part. Total, sidechain compression makes your music really feel more polished—it’s for intertwining dynamics and motion between your instruments.

Sidechain Compression with Pro C2

Kick and Bass Sidechaining

The kick drum is the most popular element music producers make space for with sidechaining. The kick drum often competes with all the bass guitars since they usually live around exactly the same frequency.

Based on the genre, it is fine when you’re able to feel the kick drum hits, as opposed to hearing them. This will not always work for each genre though. At times it’s not something that you need to notice so much in a mix.

Two genres having the kick actually punch through the mix are dance songs and Hip-Hop. People will be dancing and jumping to the beat of the kick and bass guitar in these genres more than to rock.

While it may not be applied as often or as many genres, for specific tracks it truly brings the bass track back to life.

For instance, the kick drum wired via the compressor’s sidechain circuitry will sustain the bass for quite a while. Because the compressor will stay clamped down on your bass track for a time that kick lasts. This works wonders with mixing kick and 808.

To overcome this matter, you can apply a high-pass filter and cut out the frequency content under approximately 200 Hz. This will cause just the transient region of the kick to trigger its own compressor. The outcome is a much more responsive form of sidechain compression.

IMPORTANT: Remember that filtering the sidechain input signal doesn’t filter the targeted signal. The sidechain input is being tapped from another track, working only on the targeted stem. What is sidechain compression if not wired properly – only a bunch of effects doing nothing?

what is sidechain compression

Sidechain All Melodic Components To The Snare

If you’re making tracks that have a variety of components, you’ll discover the snare can get lost amongst all of the instruments you could have. By sidechaining the melodic components out of the way of the snare, you scale back the amount of the track each time the snare hits. This offers it a bit of pocket of space to breathe whereas retaining the amount of change unnoticeable to the listener.

To try this method out, follow these steps:

  • Group your whole main melodic components collectively. In case you can’t find this in your DAW, merely send all of them to a bus, but be sure to pick the audio to ‘sends only’ so it doesn’t double the quantity.
  • In this group, open up a compressor & choose your snare as the sidechain input signal.
  • Increase the ratio to 8:1 – inf:1, & turn the threshold down till you can begin to notice things duck out of the way.

This can sidechain all the elements to the identical attack and release time + with identical depth. Take care of the attack and release time, because they are very important for this process. If you happen to like to regulate the depth (threshold & ratio) of every instrument, open up separate compressors on every one of the elements you wish to sidechain. You may then have full management over how much the sidechain compression acts in your project.

Giving the vocals room to shine

Each style of music requires a distinct arrangement, however, one factor that’s constant is that the vocal is sort of all the time the focal point. In case your lead vocal isn’t clear enough within the mix, it might be tempting to simply turn up the gain.

However that may change the standard of the vocal, and even find yourself distorting it. By sidechaining different tracks in your mix to the vocal, you enable different components of the track to cool down when the vocal comes in, making room for it to shine.

As a substitute for utilizing your vocal track to set off a compressor that’s strapped throughout the music mix,  you may target simply an instrument or two that wish to keep loud between vocal lines, but step simply outside the highlight each time the singer makes an entrance. With a quick enough release, you’ll be able to even set your compressor to let go in-between notes or phrases.

The aim of this strategy is to not hear the music ducking but to listen to the vocal come through unobstructed – whereas leaving competing components at an appropriately loud level in between.

Side Chain Compressor plugin

This may make for a subtly different impact than volume automation, as the amount dips and swells breathe with the rhythm of the voice. It could actually generally sound a bit extra refined than automation, and it’s often rather less tedious, too.

Nonetheless, it’s vital to not depend on this method excessively. You don’t wish to hear the other tracks dipping in volume; somewhat, you wish to hear the vocal come through clearly. Attempt to obtain that balance.

Accentuating Rhythm

One factor that has been extremely common in beat music has been the extreme use of sidechain compression for stylistic effects. On certain J Dilla songs, as an example, each time the kick hits, every different sound within the track ducks.

Its exaggerated use of the effect nevertheless creates a sure model where all the music is bowing to the rhythm of the kick. That is finding its method in common music, too, particularly in genres like hip-hop and EDM.

As you can see, sidechaining is a great tool for attaining a clear mix, but it’s additionally a stylistic tool that can be utilized to introduce non-instruments into your track, in addition, to innovating the function of conventional instruments.

However watch out to not use sidechain compression in an excessive amount, because it could possibly simply turn out to be cheesy and overused. Experiment, have fun, and find the precise balance that works for your music.

Sidechain Compression For Podcasts

Now that you’ve got the fundamental thought of sidechaining, you should use it in many ways. In case you are creating podcasts, how about using music in the background? You’ll be able to feed the sidechain together with your microphone.

Now, each time you talk, the compressor will turn the amount of the music down. Within the pauses between your phrases, the music will come again.

Everyone knows this impact from the radio speakers, and podcast makers can use it too. This effect is commonly known as “ducker”. The excellent news is that you simply don’t need to purchase a ducker. All you need is a compressor with sidechain input. So, save that cash for some other gear for your studio.

Sidechain Compressor in Ableton

Punching Through a Pad

One of many different most common methods to make use of a sidechain compressor in a music mix is to allow fleeting instrumental components to penetrate through lush synths, string pads, or ever-present guitar tracks.

There are occasions where you could find that there’s an unacceptable tradeoff between crafting string pads and related sounds to sound appropriately full, spectacular, and thick, and preserving them from obscuring different elements.

In these circumstances, you may slap a compressor onto the instrument in question, and use sidechain compression to set off that compressor every time the instrument it’s masking makes an appearance.

This way, you can provide supporting sounds the expansive feel they deserve, and likewise let a fleeting instrumental component poke through, whether or not it’s an arpeggiated guitar, a busy bassline, or the crack of a snare.

Multi-Band Sidechain Compression

Let’s say you’ve received a sample that has bass, & melody playing through it, however, if you sidechain that sample, you don’t need it to have an effect on your entire sound & wish to hold the top end present as it is.

Right here, you should utilize multi-band sidechain compression.

To do that, you:

  1. Open up an audio FX track.
  2. Create three chains & open up multiband on all of them.
  3. Solo the low on the first, the mid on the 2nd, & the high on the third.
  4. Now you could have three bands to select from. In this instance, we wish to sidechain the low.
  5. Open up the compressor on the low chain in your audio FX track, & arrange a sidechain with your kick.

It will only duck the lows out of the way, permitting you to create space in your mix for the kick drum hits, without affecting the top finish of your sound. It’s a particularly helpful mixing tool, but if you would like that pumping sound you’re better off sidechaining the entire sound.

Multiband Sidechain Compressor by Waves

Plugin Sidechain Options

Cableguys – VolumeShaper

VolumeShaper is an especially versatile device that permits you to form the levels of any audio signal in a pinpoint element. VolumeShaper offers a visible method to volume shaping to create musical results similar to multiband sidechain compression simulation, artistic gating, tempo-synced stutters and tremolo, exact sample-sculpting, and bit-crushing effects.

VolumeShaper features multiband waveform-based enhancing, a complete number of preset curves, an oscilloscope, an enormous spectrum view, and a number of presets. It additionally runs samples in sync together with your DAW, in Hz mode as much as the audible range or retriggered through MIDI.

ShaperBox 2

Nicky Romero – Kickstart

Drop Kickstart on any track and this efficient plugin will instantly apply sidechain-style compression to offer space and definition or give your sound a rhythmic benefit.

Designed by Nicky Romero and Cableguys, who additionally make the extra feature-rich VolumeShaper, Kickstart contains large Mix management, 16 hand-crafted modulation curves, an exact oscilloscope, and might run synced or retriggered through MIDI, with loop and one-shot modes all out there on a streamlined interface.

Nicky Romero Kickstart

Xfer – LFOTool

LFOTool is an effective utility plugin developed by Xfer Records that permits customers to sculpt customized waveshape curves to modulate quantity to create effects such as tremolo, auto-pan, trance-gate, and wobbles, in addition, to simulating sidechain compression with minimal effort.

LFOTool may generate MIDI CC messages to manage different instruments, effects, or exterior hardware. Outfitted with dozens of presets, this helpful device is able to achieve desired outcomes rapidly, or you may form your personal curves with the customizable level+tension-curve editor which is switchable through MIDI notes or automation so as to add expressive motion to your sounds.

Xfer - LFOTool

Vengeance – Multiband Sidechain

Multiband Sidechain by Vengeance is a feature-rich plugin that provides clean, high-quality sidechain simulation. This highly effective tool offers you final control over shaping volume curves in a handy and detailed interface. Use this tool creatively to sculpt your sounds or to clean up the audio spectrum.

Multiband Sidechain contains a huge number of pumpin’ dance presets, two unbiased sidechain channels for high and low frequencies, three filter varieties to separate the bands, a singular graphic interface, and a configurable major display with eight predefined scenes. In addition, the sidechain effect will be triggered with audio signals, MIDI notes, or host sync.

Vengeance - Multiband Sidechain

An Important Word on Sidechain Compression

After the above examples and tools, chances are you’ll be tempted to make use of sidechain compression on the whole lot. We will strongly suggest against this. Whereas it’s a beautiful effect, it could easily fall prey to shiny object syndrome, very like common compression over the years.

It appears novel because of the thrilling sound it has, however typically one of the best factors you are able to do to your mix is to keep away from using sidechain compression.

Our suggestion on the sidechaining will be to use it tastefully and try not to overuse it, like much other stuff around. Use it to fix problems mostly, but if you can find a use for some creative moments, feel free to go for it.

Just be very careful like with every other effect and use it up to taste for the sole benefit of the song – and not ruination!


Most professional DAW programs feature a minimum of one compressor that has a sidechain input. By way of example, Pro Tools comes with its compressor Dyn 3 plugin, and Logic has its own compressor as well.

While establishing a compressor, it will vary a little from one DAW to the next. But the fundamental operating concept is always the same.

You need to send an audio signal to the compressor’s sidechain input signal, and you may want to enable this input function. Frequently, you will use a bus to deliver a signal to the compressor’s sidechain input.

Additionally, you’re going to place the compressor’s parameters to heavy compression. With this method, you will achieve the most dramatic effect potential. For example, a high ratio with lots of gain reduction.

When you hear really loud songs, like at a loud concert or bar, your ears use a pure form of “limiting” to safeguard your hearing. That restricting occurs more on the loudest parts, such as kick drums.

Sidechain compression can emulate this effect, and make you really feel as though you’re listening to loud and exciting audio. Attempt sidechain compression next time you’re mixing a song, and let us know how you like it.

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Nikoloski is the founder and main content writer and editor of Mixing Tips. With his experience in audio engineering, mixing, and mastering for over 15 years, will provide hands-on experience and expertise in all the matters covered on this website.

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