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Sidechain Compression

Sidechain Compression can be essential for achieving dynamic control, creative sound design, and producing a polished mix. All types of sound professionals can use Sidechain Compression, whether you're working on music production, podcast editing, or soundtracks for film and TV. In this blog today, we will discuss Sidechain Compression in depth.

What is Sidechain Compression?

Sidechain Compression is an Audio Production technique used to control the dynamic range of a signal based on the level of another audio source, referred to as the "sidechain" or "key" signal. It is popularly used in music production, particularly in genres like Electronic Dance Music (EDM), to create a pumping or breathing effect.

The basic principle of Sidechain Compression involves using the amplitude of the sidechain signal to control the level of the main audio signal. When the sidechain signal exceeds a certain threshold, the Sidechain Compression starts getting applied to the track, reducing the level of the main signal.

This type of compression technique allows certain elements of the mix, such as a kick drum or bassline, to temporarily "duck" or attenuate other elements, such as a pad or vocal, creating a rhythmic effect.

Steps to apply a sidechain compression

Step 1: Set up a response signal by putting the Sidechain compressor plugin on the channel you want to apply the effect. It can be vocals, pads, instruments, etc.

Sidechain Compression 1

Step 2: Now that you have the response signal in place, you must set the trigger signal for the Sidechain Compression. Configure the compressor to receive the input to apply the dynamic effect. If you do not want the dynamic effect, you can simply select a trigger channel (a channel that instructs the compressor when to duck the volume of the main channel) in the compressor.

Sidechain Compression 2

Step 3: Start with compression settings. You can adjust the threshold levels, ratio, and attack and release. (The threshold determines the level at which compression begins, and the ratio determines the amount of compression applied. The attack and release settings control how quickly the compression reacts and recovers.)

Sidechain Compression 3

Step 4: Once you have Sidechain Compression applied to your input signal, listen to the output signal and see if you have got the desired effect you were looking for. If not, adjust the overall settings till you get the right effect.

PS- You can convert the graph button to change it into meter mode. This visual aid will make it easy for you to make precise compression readings.

Sidechain Compression 4

How To Achieve Sidechain in a Track Using Sidechain Plugins

There is more than one way to achieve Sidechain Compression. The second is using a sidechain plugin to compress your audio signal. A sidechain VST can create the same effect by applying volume automation to your audio based on an envelope. This causes the sound to “pump” These plugins are designed to simplify the process of implementing sidechain compression in your audio productions.

Best Sidechain Plugins

Xfer LFO Tool

Xfer LFO Tool is a popular audio plugin developed by Xfer Records. It is primarily designed as a modulation tool for adding rhythmic motion and modulation effects to various parameters in music production. LFO stands for Low-Frequency Oscillator, which is the core component of this plugin.

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Modulation Source

Xfer LFO Tool provides many LFO shapes such as sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, and random waveforms. These waveforms serve as the modulation source, generating a rhythmic or cyclic movement that can be applied to different parameters.

Modulation Targets

Xfer LFO allows you to assign the generated LFO waveform to various parameters within your audio software or plugins. This includes parameters like volume, panning, filter cutoff, and resonance.

Visual Display

A visual display that shows the LFO waveform is often of great help while using plugins. This plugin also shows the applied modulation in real time. This helps you visualize the modulation effect and make adjustments accordingly.

Cableguys VolumeShaper

Another popular Sidechain plugin is Cableguys VolumeShaper. It is designed to create rhythmic modulation effects and shape the volume envelope of audio signals. It offers precise control over volume modulation, allowing you to create dynamic patterns, rhythmic gates, and sidechain-like effects.

Sidechain Compression 6

Volume Modulation

The tool allows you to draw custom volume modulation shapes using its intuitive graphical interface. The created intricate patterns and shapes can make the entire process easier.

Sync and Timing

The synchronization options in the tool allow you to sync the volume modulation to the tempo of your project while allowing you to choose from various note values or set custom timing to ensure the modulation stays in sync with your music.

Curve Adjustments

VolumeShaper offers controls to adjust the shape and curvature of the volume modulation curves. You can change the curve's slope, smoothness, and tension to create different modulation styles and intensities.

Shape Presets and Editing Tools

The plugin offers a range of preset shapes to apply different volume modulation styles quickly. Additionally, it provides editing tools such as smoothing, quantization, and randomization to customize further and refine the modulation shapes.

Kickstart by Nicky Romero

Kickstart is an audio plugin that is a collaboration between Nicky Romero and Cableguys that allows users to create sidechain-style pumping effects commonly used in electronic dance music (EDM) and other genres. Kickstart simplifies achieving the popular "ducking" effect by automating the volume modulation of a track in response to an input sidechain signal.

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Input Source and Detection Modes

Kickstart allows you to select the input source for sidechain modulation. It can be triggered by the kick drum track or any other audio source in your mix.

MIDI Triggering

Kickstart supports MIDI triggering, allowing you to use MIDI notes to trigger the volume modulation. This gives you precise control over when and how the pumping effect occurs, allowing for more intricate and creative patterns.

Shape Presets

The plugin provides a selection of shape presets to apply different pumping styles and intensities quickly.

Visual Display

Kickstart features a visual display that shows the volume modulation curve and the input and output waveforms in real-time. This helps you visualize the effect of the pumping and make adjustments accordingly.

Difference Between Sidechain Compression and Sidechain Plugins

Sidechain plugins use volume automation and envelopes to create a sidechain-like effect. On the other hand, Sidechain compression is achieved with a compressor that has a sidechain input. It applies compression to the track and is controlled by an incoming audio signal.

The main differences are that one uses volume automation to control levels, and the other uses compression for gain reduction. One acts as an automatic fader, and the other squashes your audio signal.

Where to Use Sidechain Compression

Pumping and Ducking effect

The most common use of Sidechain compression is to create a pumping or breathing effect in electronic dance music (EDM) and other genres that require high energy. By sidechaining a kick drum to a bassline or other elements in the mix, the bassline lowers in volume each time the kick drum hits, creating a pumping effect in the track.

Vocal and Instrument Separation

Another use of Sidechain Compression is to separate vocals from other elements in the mix, as it reduces the instrumental volume when the vocals are present. This allows sound engineers to make sure that the vocals remain clear.

Mixing with Reverb and Delay

While using reverb or a delay effect, Sidechain Compression increases the mix's clarity as the effect is triggered only when the dry signal is inactive, allowing for a cleaner sound. This technique helps prevent the reverb or delay from interfering with the clarity and definition of the dry signal.

Dynamic Mixing

Sidechain Compression can also be used to dynamically mix different elements in a track allowing you to achieve a more balanced and controlled mix. For instance, sidechaining a bassline to a pad or a synth can make it more prominent and prevent it from masking other elements in the mix.

Emphasizing Sound Effects

Sound Design is a critical element for film, TV, and video games, where sound professionals can use Sidechain Compression to accentuate and highlight specific sound effects. For example, when a door slams or an explosion occurs, sidechain compression triggered by that sound effect can momentarily duck other elements in the mix, creating space and allowing the effect to be heard clearly by the audience, allowing a technician to create impact and an immersive experience.

Tips and Tricks For Sidechain Compression

Choose the Right Control Signal

Selecting the right control signal is the first step in getting the desired results. Chances are high that you will have to experiment with different audio sources to find the one that provides the desired rhythmic or dynamic characteristics. You should remember that the control signal should have enough presence and consistency to trigger the compression in the first place.

Set the Attack and Release Times

Sidechain Compression is used mainly to create a thumping track, a case in which the attack and release settings are very important as they determine how quickly the compression engages and disengages when the control signal exceeds the threshold. Adjusting these parameters is essential to shape the desired envelope and achieve the desired effect.

Understand Compression Ratio and Threshold

The compression ratio and threshold levels are crucial for achieving the right Sidechain Compression. You must understand the fundamentals of choosing the right ratio and threshold levels. A higher ratio will result in more intense audio compression, while a lower ratio will provide a more subtle effect on the other hand, threshold levels determine when the compressor starts compressing the input audio.

Use Sidechain Filters

Sometimes, you may want to apply sidechain compression to specific frequency ranges rather than the entire audio signal, an effect that sidechain filters can achieve.

By utilizing filters, you can specify which frequencies will trigger the compression allowing you to maintain the clarity and definition of other instruments while still achieving the desired dynamics in the track.

Experiment with Different Release Shapes

Many compressors offer different release shapes or envelope options. Instead of a traditional linear release, we want you to try logarithmic, exponential, or program-dependent releases.

Each shape changes how the compression release responds to the input audio, giving you a unique and creative result.

Automate Sidechain Parameters

Automation is a powerful tool when working with sidechain compression. It allows you to automate various parameters such as the threshold, compression ratio, and even the sidechain filter settings while allowing precise control and the ability to add excitement and movement to your mix without much hassle.

You can increase the compression ratio during the chorus to enhance the pumping effect or automate the sidechain filter to change the frequency emphasis over time.

Experiment and Think Outside the Box

From our experience, no matter how many guidebooks you read or tricks you try, the best way to get the desired results is to keep experimenting with Sidechain Compression.

Try using unconventional control signals, apply sidechain compression to unexpected elements, or even superimpose it with other effects and processing techniques.


Sidechain Compression is an extremely effective tool if you know what you are doing (if not, keep learning). We have learned that apart from the typical pumping effect, Sidechain Compression can be used creatively to achieve various musical effects beyond it.

We have also discussed how Sidechain Compression Plugins work and why they are becoming popular lately. We want you to go through this blog every now and then and promise that you will find something new to experiment with, something that will help you get just the thing you need!

- Joseph SARDIN - Founder of - About - Contact

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