Sidechain compression is a form of audio ducking that many professional tracks make use of.
Sidechain compression is when the level of one signal triggers a compressor to act on another signal. In electronic music, the most common use of sidechain compression is attenuating the level of bass playing while the kick drum plays!
You can think of a sidechain as the boss of a compressor. It tells the compressor how to react to the signal. The sidechain listens out for the second signal (the sidechain signal) and tells the compressor to react to the signal.
“Sidechain” is an abbreviation of the term “side signal chain.” In this context, “Side” means “different from the main input source”. To be more specific, this means whatever channel you insert your compressor on. “Signal chain” refers to any gear that processes an audio signal like an EQ – but this isn’t so important for our purposes here.
As we mentioned earlier, ducking basses so that kick drums are clearly audible is a technique used heavily in electronic music production, and music in general really. The difference is that it’s a hallmark of EDM!
When Should You Use it?
Sidechain compression does have more than one use. We use it to attenuate the level of our bass to make room for the kick drum so that our low-end isn’t cluttered or otherwise muddy. For example, not using sidechain compression on your bass signal will mean your kick & bass are fighting one another. Therefore, attenuating your bass allows your listener to clearly hear your kick drum.
Another practical use of sidechain compression is ducking instruments out of the way of a lead vocal. If you have a busy chorus, you could sidechain your pads, guitars, keys, or any instrument to your vocals and duck them. Then your vocals can be heard more clearly!
But you can also get creative with sidechain compression and experiment with it. To illustrate, let’s say you had a 4 bar snare loop and each snare lands on the third beat of each bar. But in the fourth bar, you want to mix it up so that your loop isn’t so boring, right?
Well, you could sidechain your main signal (the snare loop) and a one-shot snare (input signal) so that your sidechain ducks the snare loop whenever the snare one-shot plays!
Of course, you could just cut the fourth snare out of the loop and insert a new one. But for our purposes, this seemed like a simple analogy to demonstrate the power of creative sidechaining!
How to Use Sidechain Compression in FL Studio
- First, select your kick drum channel in the mixer section. You’ll know if you’ve selected it as it’ll highlight itself.
- Second, right click on the arrow at the bottom of the bass channel you want to be attenuated. In the pop up menu, click “Sidechain to this track”. This sidechains your kick drum channel toyour bass and lets the enxt stage happen. Make sure you keep the send dial at the bottom of the sub channel at 0. If you raise this knob, you’ll be sending volume to the sub channel from the kcik channel – this is not what we want.
- Back on your sub bass channel, insert the Fruity limiter plugin. Leave the limiter section alone and click down onto the compression (comp) section.
- Over on the right of “comp” you’ll see the sidechain menu. Right click and select the channel that you want the limiter to sidechain the sub to. As we have already used the FL mixer to sidechain the sub to the kick, Fruity Limiter will detect the channel in question.
- In Fruity Limiter, turn down the “Threshold” and turn up the “Ratio” control until you hear the sub sidechaining to the kick.
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