Do you love that pumping sound you get in French house or in-your-face EDM? Producers make that sound with a technique known as ducking or side-chain compression. In this article we’ll explain how it works and how to do it yourself.
Side-chain compression is simply setting up a compressor so that it uses another signal other than the main input to control the amount of compression. So, for example, when the kick is loud it brings down the bass and the other way around. This is why it’s known as ducking, the level of one audio source is used to ‘duck’ (push down) the level of another. In hardware terms this involves plugging another cable into the rear of a compressor to disrupt its normal signal flow. In software this usually means telling the compressor plugin where to get its side-chain (signal) from.
However you do it, the aim is to carve out space by reducing the level of bass notes temporarily whenever the kick hits. Producers get the pumping sound by aggressively ducking the bass under the kick but the effect doesn’t have to be obvious; it can be so subtle that it’s almost imperceptible when listening to the full mix but still cleans up the bottom end significantly.
Make sure that the compression plugin you’re using allows for side chaining. There’s loads of great options for all the DAWs. Ableton Live 9 has six stock effects with sidechaining built in: Auto Filter, Compressor, Corpus, Gate, Glue Compressor and Multiband Dynamics – and they’re all really easy to setup. Nicky Romero’s Kick Start is incredibly quick to setup and really easy to use. It’s rather limited for advanced users, but if you want to get it setup as quickly as possible then this is the best option. If you’re a fan of Waves then the C1 Compressor will make a trusty side kick.
Finally, if you want that heavy French house sound, you might consider side-chaining the mids to the kick as well. You can even use side-chaining on the vocals, just like Disclosure do to Gregory Porter‘s voice in the track ‘Holding On’.
Side-chaining is an incredibly flexible and versatile tool that you can use to really clean up and energise your tracks. If you have any questions leave a comment below.