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How to side chain audio properly

Side-chaining, in music, means that you are activating an effect with an alternative audio source. The alternative source is set to a threshold, which when exceeded activates the effect.

Most commonly you hear the side-chain effect where the side-chain is used to lower the volume of instruments (often the bass / synths) when the kick hits. This will make the kick sounding louder, and ultimately the music will sound more tight and defined.

Here is a quick example where the bass and synths are side-chained against the kick.

Side chained synths against the kick drum.

It’s no secret that every EDM producer is using side-chaining among their primary mixing techniques.

The “volume side-chain effect” can be achieved in a multiple of ways.

Methods of side-chaining volume

  1. You can use any compressor plugin with side-chain audio input feed.
  2. Use a plugin which lowers / ducks your volume according to a curve.
  3. Edit the audio track with volume automation to achieve the side-chain sound.

The most common side-chaining method is using a compressor

First of all let’s look at the most common way of side-chaining.

The most common way of side-chaining volume is using a compressor featuring a side-chain input. Every modern and professional DAW offer a compressor with this side-chain input option. This compressor plugin can either be applied to an individual track, or to a buss in your DAW.

How to side chain audio in Logic Pro X

If we look at the Logic Pro X compressor plugin below. This native Logic compressor comes with side-chain input instantly available.

Logic Side Chain Compressor
Logic Pro X Compressor with Side Chain activated.

Importantly, you also get many options to tailor the side-chaining effect. You can also listen (preview) the side-chain input if you need to confirm the audio source. This means we have side chaining instantly accessible in Logic Pro X whenever we need it on a mixer track via the compressor plugin.

How to side chain audio in FL Studio 20

FL Studio 20 takes a few more steps to make the side chaining happen. While Logics compressor can select any audio track as the side chain input directly, FL Studio requires you to route audio signals between tracks first.

Note: Yes, I know you can also use the Fruity Peak Controller to do side-chaining but that’s a more fiddly setup.

FL Studio Side Chain routing.
FL Studio 20 side-chain routing Kick (ch1) to Bass (ch8).

Firstly, in the image above we have channel 1 selected and right click on channel 8 cable input arrow at the bottom of the mixer strip. Select “Sidechain to this track”. We are now feeding channel 8 with a side-chain signal from the kick.

The mixer of FL Studio is very flexible and highly customizable. Although this extra “signal routing step” is required to set up side chaining.

Secondly, we add the Fruity Limiter as an insert effect to the bass (ch8). In the Fruity Limiter activate the Comp-tab at the bottom. Press the mouse button on-top of the SideChain value box and drag upwards to select Side-Chain Input 1.

Finally, if you set the compressor threshold to a lower value (-30db) and the Ratio to something like 7:1 you will start to see and hear the side-chaining effect.

In conclusion, the Fruity Limiter will now reduce the volume of the bass as soon as the kick hits. Your side-chain effect is completed!

The radio voice – background music side-chaining

Another common example of side-chaining is when DJs are talking over the music on the radio. When the DJ speaks, a limiter is activated upon the background music by the audio signal off the DJ talking. This causes the music to drop way down so that it doesn’t interfere with the speech. When the DJs finished talking, the silence on the voice track de-activates the limiter on the background music. The music will once again become the loudest part of the mix.

How to set up volume properly on side chained tracks

If you want to learn how to set up volume properly on side-chained tracks you can watch a video I did discussing gain-staging. Importantly, in the article and video we discuss common problems when side-chaining.

About the author:

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Mattias Holmgren is a creative director sailing from Sweden – business owner of Morningdew Media.

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