How To Use Sidechain Compression in Ableton Live: Tutorial

Want to learn how to use sidechain compression in your music? Using Ableton Live it’s easy!

First lets talk about what sidechain compression is. To better understand sidechaining we should first have a basic grasp of compression as a dynamic technique. Our friends at Ableton can help explain this.

“Compression is the reduction of a signal by a certain number of factors. These factors include a threshold, the crossing of which engages the compressor, which can then reduce (or attenuate) the audio via a certain amount. That amount is often a ratio of the signal. You can also control how quickly the compressor will act (attack) and how quickly it will stop the signal reduction once it has been engaged (release).”

“Sidechaining is basically using another signal to engage a compressor to attenuate the signal you are compressing. The signal you are typically trying to attenuate is the bass, and you’re typically trying to do that with a kick drum. Doing so allows you to not have the two signals compete for the same frequency range. Done right, the bass and kick will play off each other and feel more glued together, and your overall mix will sound nice and punchy instead of phased and muddy.”

In electronic music, producers have learned to use sidechain compression as more of an effect than a dynamic/mixing technique. A couple good examples include Daft Punk’s, “One More Time,” and Galimatias’ “Make you feel.”

 


Notice how the sounds in One More Time, seem to pump to the beat of the kick drum. Sidechain compression is most often triggered by the kick, as we can hear very clearly in Make you feel.

Here’s how to use sidechain compression in Ableton Live!

First, find a track that you think could use some sidechain compression. Usually something sustaining like a synth pad or string line or maybe a heavy bass. Next! Find the compressor inside of Ableton’s “Audio Effects” tab. Analog or outboard compressors can be very expensive and usually look something like this:

Boston DJ School

 

Ableton’s compressor comes free with the software, and is very simple and easy to use.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 5.48.12 PM

After you’ve located the compressor, click and drag the compressor onto whatever track you want to compress. It’s important to keep your tracks named and organized properly so you can add effects quickly and efficiently. Once you have your compressor on the correct track, click the arrow on the top left of the module. The arrow should turn to the right, and open a sidechain dropdown menu. It should look like this, notice the sidechain button illuminated in green.

compressor

Now you’re almost there! Make sure you click on the sidechain button if it is not illuminated. The next step is to set your trigger, for this example we’re gonna use a kick drum to trigger the sidechain. Set your “Audio From” to your kick drum track. Now, simply pull down the threshold fader to your liking, and you should hear the sidechain triggering. Here’s a quick before and after so you can hear the difference.

w/o sidechain:

w/ sidechain:

 

Now you’re in business! You can apply this technique to pretty much anything in Ableton. Don’t be afraid to get creative, sidechaining is fun and very effective. You can also use it more dynamically, maybe by sidechaining background vocals to open up space in a mix. Play around with the different functions of Ableton’s compressor to get it sounding just how you like it.

If you’re interested in learning more techniques like this, come take classes at MMMMAVEN! You’ll learn all the tools you need to get producing music you love fast, and efficiently. Contact us today to schedule a studio tour or sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay in the loop on the variety of events and free workshops we offer.

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