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What is side-chaining? How can it be used?

I’m glad you asked! A side-chain is i tricky little feature that will allow you to do some pretty interesting things with your audio.

In this quick tip, I explain some ways that I like to use side-chaining. Please feel free to add your techniques to the comments section.

What is side-chaining?

Transcript »

Hey guys! Dezz Asanti here once again from the TechMuzeAcademy with another video quick tip. This one comes again from the Gear Sluzt forums. The gentlemen writes in. He says, “Hello fellow sluzt!” and in this context thats completely appropriate.

“Can anyone give me a basic explnation on how to use side-chaining? I’m using PTX with not many extra native or DSP plugins yet. I don’t really know what it really is or how it is use in the correct manner. I’ve had a look around and know whats commonly use for on things like base guitar for example to dock it out of the way or kick drum or vise versa.”

Thanks for the input and he goes on to express gratitude in advance. Well, it’s a good question. Let me start with a brief explanation as to what side-chaining is. Basically, a side chain input on an audio processor is intended to allow you to let the process affect an audio track while being triggered by a separate audio track. Let me explain why I mean by that. An example would be let say in fact the example that was brought up in the question was using it side-chaining on a base guitar to dock out of the way when the kick drum kicks. And this is a technique I use very often when its appropriate and that is I’ll use a compressor on the baseline with a side-chain input. And what that means is the side-chain allows me to send some other track in the mix into that compressor to trigger its  action as oppose to the track that is being process triggering its actions.

So, for example I put a compressor on the base guitar track and then I feed the kick drum signal into the compressor side-chain. What that means is is that the kick drum signal that’s goin to signal the compressor to act but the compressor is going to act upon the base guitar track. Hopefully, that makes sense because it’s kind a tricky to sort of visualize in your mind.

So, in an event like that what’s going to be happening is everytime the kick drum hits the compressor is going to. ..everytime the kick drum breaches the threshold of the compressor, the compressors going to kick in and clamp down on the baseline as oppose to, on the kick drum which would be a normal situation that you will encounter. So, in that situation the compressor is going to be docking or attenuating the baseline every time the kick drum breaches the threshold. So, it has the effect of essentially docking as whats mentioned in the question. docking the baseline out of the way everytime the kick drum strikes. And this is advantageous in situations where you want to have a lot of bottom end content in both the kick and the baseline. But as you may or may not know those frequencies are going to tend to compete with one another. So, this is a way to alleviate the competition while still keeping a nice fat round baseline and letting that kick drum have some bottom end as well. So, everytime that kick drum hits the big fat round base is just going to dock away a little bit and let the frequency content of the kick drum take dominance during that instant that the kick is being struck. So, that’s one example on how you can use side-chaining. Hopefully, that illustrates what side-chaining is.

Now, it’s not just compressors that have side-chains, another example would be a gate, a noise gate. A gate can be triggered by something else to open and allow another signal to come through. I did a quick tip a few months ago on how you can use a side-chain with a gate to add some subharmonic content…frequency content to a kick drum for example. Excuse me. So, in a situation like that what would happened is…is I might have a consistent signal maybe you know… a 60 hertz sign wave that’s constantly playing with a gate on it. So, the sign wave itself is gated out, so it’s silent and I’m going to feed in the kick drum into the side-chain of the gate. And what this does is that everytime the kick drum hits it breaches the gate’s threshold allowing that gate to open and let that 60 hertz sign wave poke through for an instant and you can mess with the attack and release times to determine how long you want to the gate to stay open or if you want a snapshot instantly. And this is an example of how you might be able to add some frequency content to a…in this case a kick drum.

You can also use this on snare drums. I’ve heard…I’ve use before a technique where I’ll have a track that has a consistent burst of white noise that’s just streaming but it’s gated out so it’s silent and then I’ll have the snare drum open the gate. So, I’ll send the snare drums channel to the side-chain of the gate and that way everytime the snare strikes the gate opens and let some of this…shih this white noise through to add a little bit of frequency content to the sound of the snare drum.
So, there’s two examples as to  how a gate might be or excuse me how a side-chain might be use on both the gate and a compressor.

If you have any other ideas by all means leave a comment here on the page and share with us some of the techniques that you’ve used. So, I hope that does help. If you’re interested in getting more quick tips like this on a regular basis head on over to the TechMuzeAcademy. It’s and jump on the email list while you’re there and you’ll get these…these tips sent to you in a weekly digest as some people prefer that as opposed to the daily or every other day scenario. So, head on over to TechMuzeAcademy, leave us a comment and we’ll see you on the next quick tip.

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