What Is Sidechaining: Unleashing the Power of Dynamic Mixing

Unleash the power of sidechaining in your music productions with this comprehensive guide. Achieve clarity, balance, and impact in your mix.

Are you tired of struggling with a mix that sounds great in some parts but is overcrowded and muddy in others? Say goodbye to audio imbalances with the power of sidechaining. Discover how this production technique can transform your tracks and take your music to a whole new level. So, what exactly is sidechaining, and how can it revolutionize your sound? Let’s dive in and find out.

What is sidechaining? Sidechaining is a production technique that allows an alternative audio source to trigger an effect based on a set threshold. By using sidechain compression, you can control the dynamic range of your tracks, ensuring each element has its moment to shine while maintaining a balanced mix. It’s a game-changer for achieving professional-sounding results.

What is sidechaining, and how does it work?

Sidechaining is a technique used in audio processing and music production. It involves using one audio channel’s output to control another audio channel’s behavior. Sidechain compression is the most common application of this technique, although it can be used in other contexts such as gating, EQ, and even modulation effects.

Image of a laptop and some audio mixing devices in a home recording set up.
Image of a laptop and some audio mixing devices in a home recording set up.

Sidechain compression triggers a compressor on one channel whenever the audio signal in another channel reaches a specified level. This allows the user to “duck” or reduce the volume of the compressed channel whenever the sidechain input signal is present.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is sidechaining: unleashing the power of dynamic mixing | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Why use sidechaining?

You might wonder, “Why should I bother with sidechaining when I can manually adjust the volume levels and EQ?” Well, sidechaining offers several distinct advantages that can take your music to a whole new level:

  • Achieve clarity: Sidechaining helps create space in your mix, allowing each instrument or sound to be heard clearly without competing for sonic real estate.
  • Tame unruly frequencies: It’s common for certain elements, such as bass and kick, to clash in the lower frequency spectrum. Sidechaining allows you to control these clashes by reducing the bass when the kick hits, resulting in a cleaner and punchier sound.
  • Enhance impact: By applying sidechain compression, you can make certain elements stand out during specific moments, adding impact and excitement to your music.
  • Improve groove: For genres like EDM, sidechaining is often used to create that signature “pumping” effect, where the rest of the musical elements “duck” in response to the kick drum, enhancing the rhythmic and danceable feel.

How can you implement sidechaining in a mix?

Now that you understand the benefits of sidechaining, let’s dive into the practical steps to incorporate it into your mixing process:

  1. Choose the right tools: To start with sidechaining, you’ll need a compressor plugin supporting sidechain functionality. Most modern DAWs come with built-in compressors capable of sidechaining, but you can also explore third-party options for more flexibility and control.
  2. Set up the sidechain input: Once you’ve selected your compressor, you must assign the sidechain input. This is the audio source that will trigger the compression effect. Common choices include the kick drum or any other element to which you want to give prominence.
  3. Configure the threshold and ratio: Every compressor has parameters such as threshold and ratio that determine when and how the compression kicks in. Start by setting an appropriate threshold level that triggers the compression whenever the sidechain input exceeds it. Additionally, tweak the ratio to determine the intensity of the compression effect.
  4. Fine-tune the attack and release: The attack and release settings control how quickly the compressor responds to the sidechain input and how long it takes for the effect to fade. Experiment with different attack and release times to find the sweet spot that suits your mix and desired effect.

Does sidechaining only work with compressors?

It’s worth noting that while sidechaining is most commonly associated with compressors, it can be implemented with other dynamic processors as well. In fact, sidechaining can be used with gates and dynamic EQs too. The key is to use threshold-based audio effects that allow you to control the behavior of one audio source based on another.

The key is to use threshold-based audio effects that allow you to control the behavior of one audio source based on another.

Sidechaining can help you achieve cleaner and more controlled drum sounds when working with gates by eliminating unwanted bleeding. For example, if you have a close-mic’d snare drum track with significant kick bleed, you can use the kick drum’s sidechain input to trigger the snare track’s gate. This way, the gate only opens when the kick drum hits, reducing the unwanted kick bleed in the snare track.

Dynamic EQs are another powerful tool that can benefit from sidechaining. Using a dynamic EQ with sidechain capabilities, you can selectively apply EQ adjustments to a specific frequency range based on the input of another track. This can be particularly useful when taming certain frequencies that might clash with other elements in the mix, providing greater control and clarity.

Image of an audio mixer.
Image of an audio mixer.

How can sidechaining be used creatively?

While the most common application of sidechaining is to create a rhythmic “pumping” effect in EDM, there are various creative ways to employ sidechaining to add depth and interest to your music. Here are some examples:

  • Creating vocal space: If you want to ensure that your vocals cut through the mix effortlessly, you can sidechain other elements, such as guitars or synths, to briefly dip in volume every time the vocals come in. This technique allows the vocals to shine without overpowering the other elements.
  • Adding movement to effects: Sidechaining can be used to modulate the parameters of effects such as reverb and delay. By sidechaining an effect to a specific audio source, you can control the effect’s intensity or amount based on the sidechain input’s dynamics.
  • Triggering synth or sample envelopes: Sidechaining can also be used to trigger the envelope of a synth or sample. By using a percussive sound as the sidechain input, you can shape the sound of the synth or sample to dynamically follow the rhythm of the sidechain source.

Remember, sidechaining is a versatile tool that offers endless possibilities for creative experimentation. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and explore different ways to use sidechaining in your music production process.

What are some tips for sidechaining?

As with any mixing technique, sidechaining requires practice and experimentation to master. Here are some additional tips and best practices to help you make the most out of sidechaining:

  • Don’t overdo it: While sidechaining can work wonders, excessive use can lead to an unnatural and exaggerated effect. Use it judiciously, and let the music breathe naturally.
  • Consider different elements: Sidechaining doesn’t have to be limited to kick and bass. Explore creative applications by side-chaining elements such as vocals, synths, or even effects like reverb to create unique textures and movement within your mix.
  • Think beyond compression: While compressors are the go-to tool for sidechaining, don’t be afraid to experiment with other effects like volume automation or dynamic EQs. The possibilities are endless!
  • Practice with reference tracks: Analyze professional mixes in your genre and pay attention to how sidechaining is used. Take inspiration from their techniques, but remember to add your own unique touch to make your mixes stand out.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about sidechaining.

Can I use sidechaining in genres other than EDM?

Absolutely! While sidechaining has become synonymous with the pumping effect often heard in EDM, its applications extend far beyond that. Sidechaining can be utilized in any genre where you want to achieve clarity, create space, or emphasize certain elements. Whether you’re working on rock, pop, hip-hop, or even jazz, sidechaining can be a valuable tool in your mixing arsenal.

Can I sidechain multiple elements in my mix simultaneously?

Yes, you can sidechain multiple elements in your mix simultaneously. In fact, sidechaining multiple elements can help you sculpt your mix with precision. By setting up separate sidechain inputs for different elements, you can dynamically control the interaction between key elements in your mix to achieve the desired balance and impact.

Are there any alternative techniques to sidechaining?

While sidechaining provides a powerful and versatile tool for audio manipulation, there are alternative techniques that can achieve similar results. One popular technique is volume automation, where you manually adjust the volume levels of different elements in your mix to create space and highlight specific moments.

Another alternative is multiband compression, which allows you to apply different compression settings to different frequency bands. These techniques can be effective in certain scenarios, but sidechaining remains widely used and preferred by many producers and engineers.


And there you have it—a comprehensive exploration of the wonders of sidechaining! We’ve covered what sidechaining is, its practical applications, and its creative possibilities. Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and remember, don’t let your mix drown in audio chaos—dive into the world of sidechaining and unlock its full potential!

Key Takeaways

This article covered the topic of sidechaining, exploring its uses, benefits, and alternative techniques. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Sidechaining is a production technique that allows an alternative audio source to trigger an effect based on a set threshold.
  • It can be used to achieve clarity, balance, and impact in your mix.
  • Sidechaining is not limited to EDM and can be applied to various genres.
  • It offers tremendous creative possibilities for sound design and rhythmic effects.
  • While sidechaining is the go-to technique, alternative methods like volume automation and multiband compression can achieve similar results.

Helpful Resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

Nick is our staff editor and co-founder. He has a passion for writing, editing, and website development. His expertise lies in shaping content with precision and managing digital spaces with a keen eye for detail.

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