How to sidechain in Ableton Live

Sidechain compression is a favourite technique amongst modern producers and brings an iconic thumping sound to a track. Here’s how you can sidechain in your tracks using Ableton Live.

First of all, if you’re not sure what sidechaining is then I’m glad you’re hear to learn about but it’s probably worth you checking out our introduction to sidechain compression so that you know what you’re going to be achieving when you bring it in to your mix:

If you’re in the know and you’re wanting to use the process to build a particular sound in your track, whether it’s boosting your bass drum in the mix for a huge dance sound or if you’re letting the vocals shine through the mix more than the backing track; whatever the sound you’re looking to achieve, here’s a guide to sidechaining on Ableton.

Sidechain compression in Ableton Live

Sidechain compression allows you to duck a channel based on another channel’s output. This is often used to allow one element to come through in the mix even more prominently and is most effective when used on a solid hit rather than continuous noise.

  1. Open one of their compressor plugins on the track that you want to compress. We’ll use Glue Compressor to walk through it in this case.
  2. Use the toggle arrow button to select and open the Sidechain compression pane in the plugin.
  3. Enable the Sidechain input (this should turn it yellow).
  4. In the two bars under ‘Audio From’ you’ll be selecting where your external source comes from and your tapping point. Select the track that contains your signal in the top bar and then the element you want to tap in the lower menu.
  5. You can select the small headphones symbol between Sidechain and EQ to filter the sidechain signal and choose from 6 of the available filters. This helps to control the triggering of the compression if it’s not working as you want.
  6. Using the Attack, Release, Ratio, and Threshold you control exactly how the sidechain is impacting your output. For details on how this works you’ll need to look into compressors more deeply elsewhere. Our guide is a good place to start.

Other types of sidechaining in Ableton Live

You can use other effects with the sidechaining process for varying results.

Rhythm: Using the techniques above, try sidechaining a recurring instrument or sample to create a rhythmic ducking to your track. Playing with your settings you can use a sidechain not so much to emphasise certain instruments but to emphasise a rhythmic pattern. You could even mute the instrument you’re sidechaining, allowing you to experiment with ducking without any sound needed to be pushed in those gaps.

Gate: You can set up a sidechain on Ableton’s gate to open and close the gate based on the level of a track. This can allow you to push two tracks at the same time, creating a relationship between two instruments or sounds. For example, gating a bass with the kick drum allows them to push their space together, bringing them both to the front of the track when the kick hits.

Filters: Sidechain to your filter and control the parameters like the envelope and filter so that when your input comes through your sound is transformed. This can be an amazing way to make a certain track’s sound shine through on each beat.

Got any unique ways of sidechaining that have created an interesting and different sound within your music? Share it with us in the comments below and maybe someone else will discover a brand new method to take into their music thanks to you.

Writing about music, listening to music, and occasionally playing music.

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