How To Set Up Sidechains In Live
Some of the effects in Live have a hidden ability: sidechaining. Compression is sometimes used with a sidechain, although you can apply the same technique to other effects too – gate and autofilter effects also have a sidechain option.
Here’s what sidechaining does and how to use it in Ableton Live.
What Is Sidechaining?
When you’ve got an effect like a gate or compressor, notice how these types of effects work in general:
- First, the effect takes an input sound/channel.
- Here’s the key part: several factors of the input sound (eg volume) determine what the effect is going to sound like. For example, with compression – a loud sound passes through relatively unchanged by the effect, whereas a quiet sound is boosted in volume. The volume of the input sound determines how much volume boost is actually applied.
- Lastly, the determined effect is actually applied to the sound.
But: what would happen if the input sound was different to the actual sound the effect is being applied to? This is exactly exactly what sidechaing is, and it can be used to create some interesting and useful effects.
If you didn’t follow all of that, it’s ok – experiment a bit later and you’ll pick what sidechaining does soon enough.
Sidechains In Ableton Live
Drag and drop a device that supports sidechaining onto a new track (compressor, gate, and autofilter all support sidechains). Now, notice that in the top left hand corner of the plugin, there’s a little triangle – click on this to open up the sidechaining options.
You’ll now see a big sidechain button up the top – this turns sidechaining on/off. Just beneath it are two selection boxes: use the first to select the sidechain source (the channel that will determine what effect is applied) and use the second to select when the audio from that channel is actually sent to the sidechain.
Gain – this increases the volume of the input audio from the sidechain channel. Note that this doesn’t actually increase the volume of that channel, it just changes how loud that channel will appear to be when it is used as an input source for the effect.
Wet/Dry – this is a very cool feature which lets you have a partially sidechained effect. In other words, both the sidechain source and the actual track’s audio will be mixed together, and then used as an input source for the effect.
How To Set Up A Simple Sidechain
To set up a simple sidechain effect, you’ll need two tracks with audio on them. A good combination to hear a sidechain in action is the combination of a kick drum track with a matching music track.
Add a compressor to the music track, and set up a sidechain so that the kick drum is being used as an input source for the compression.
Adjust the compressor as needed, and with a bit of adjustment you should be able to notice a commonly used effect: whenever the kick drum is heard, the music will fade out slightly. A lot of dance/electronic music uses exactly the same effect, made by using a sidechained compressor.
Compressors are often used with a sidechain, but don’t forget you can do the same with some other effects (i.e. gate and auto filter). Try the sidechaining feature on these devices too for some interesting effects!