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Setting up side chains

From: Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

Video: Setting up side chains

Did you ever wish you could control the dynamics of one element using another? Well, maybe you never thought about it, but I promise you, you will after watching this video. A more advanced dynamics processing technique called side-chaining allows you to control the dynamics of one signal using the dynamics of another. In fact, you have already used this technique, if you have ever used a De-Esser. So, a perfect example that you probably heard before is radio ducking. The dialog when the DJ comes in automatically ducks out the music.

Setting up side chains

Did you ever wish you could control the dynamics of one element using another? Well, maybe you never thought about it, but I promise you, you will after watching this video. A more advanced dynamics processing technique called side-chaining allows you to control the dynamics of one signal using the dynamics of another. In fact, you have already used this technique, if you have ever used a De-Esser. So, a perfect example that you probably heard before is radio ducking. The dialog when the DJ comes in automatically ducks out the music.

So, it triggers gain reduction on a compressor. So, let me show you how to set on up in Pro Tools. So, let's say what I want to do is I want to trigger a Gate to open and close every time the kick drum hits. And maybe using this technique, I'll take a signal generator. So, I'm just going to create an aux track and I want a chain of signal generator of the kick drum. (Beep, beep, beeping sliding down a scale.) Now, my goal is I want the Gate to open and close or the signal generator to turn on and off with the kick drum.

Now if I just insert a Gate here (Beep, beep, series of long beeps.) The problem is I need to tell the Gate to open and close, using information from the kick drum, not from the signal generator itself. Otherwise the signal generator is just going to stay static. So, either it's open triggering the threshold or it's not. So, this is where side-chains come in. So, what I'm going to do is I'm actually going to use the key input here and I'm going to take this signal off of that Kick Bus.

Now, if I didn't have a sub-mix of the kick already, what I would do is I would just take a send off that kick track to a free bus. I'll use a Mono bus, all side-chains are going to be mono in Pro Tools, and then I would set that to unity gain set it at Pre-fader, so the volume didn't affect it here and then attach my key input to that same bus. So, I'm going out Bus 29, a Pre-fader send ,and I'm bringing into the key input of this Expander here.

Now in some plug-ins that's all you have to do, but in the DigiRack, I need to activate the side- chain by clicking on the little key. This tells this processor to listen to this side-chain and use that for its threshold interaction and then apply whatever it's doing, whether it's gain reduction or gaining in this case, to the signal in line. In this case, the signal generator. So, let's listen for a bit and I'll tune this up. (Music playing) So, this is the trick engineers used to use before drum sample replacement to get a little extra oomph out of a kick or maybe they would side-chain some white noise to a snare.

What I'm doing here is I'm just attaching a 56 Hz tone and it's opening and closing the Gate using the side-chain. So, without the Gate, it's just a low frequency tone. And so, the side-chain Gate is opening and closing in time with the kick drum. You can also use this if let's say you attach this to a sync sound and it might pause in time or it loops, so that it opens and closes in time with another loop. This can be really cool if you sort of attach one thing to another.

Now a more practical use, because generally I'll probably just use sound replacement, if I want a better kick drum sound. In this specific session, I'm actually using a side-chain as part of the mix. Instead of a Gate I'm side-chaining a compressor on the bass guitar track. If I look here at the compressor on the bass sub, it's actually keyed off the kick bus. And the goal here is that because the kick drum and the bass guitar sort of share the same space in the mix, sometimes they can kind of fight each other.

And so what I want to do is use this compressor to just duck out the bass just for about 30 milliseconds, maybe even shorter, and so I'm going to let the kick drum sort of speak with its transient so that the bass transient or the pick of the bass doesn't fight with the kick drum. And this can really help, especially if you have a bass that's playing on top of the beat. Now, if you have a bass that's playing ahead of a beat, that's something that I'll have to go in and edit in the Edit window. Actually move the bass notes, which I'll do sometimes.

But this just helps the bass sit in the pocket a little bit better. It's a trick that engineers have been using for a really long time to kind of get the bass and kick to sit together, way before Pro Tools even. And we just listen here. I'll bring up my other two bass tracks. (Music playing) So, it's really subtle, but it kind of tightens up that low end a bit.

It allows that kick drum to spike through and the bass kind of fills in right afterwards. Remember we are not taking away a whole bass note. We are only taking away a fraction of a second from it. It's kind of a cool little trick. Again, side-chains are really neat and you can do a lot of different things with them. Some are more utility, kind of getting the bass and kick to sit a little bit better and some are more creative, like I want to take and side-chain a loop to a synthesizer that it kind of pulses in time with that.

Sometimes I'll use it in post production to duck out the music, if I don't have the time to automate something and I can use it maybe on Reverb return or a Delay return, so it's more nonlinear on the tail. So, whether creative or utility, side-chains are a must know mixing technique and it might seem like a hard concept to grasp at first. It will quickly become one of the most useful tricks in your signal routing bag.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

77 video lessons · 9199 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 39s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 24s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 11s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 8s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 15m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 22s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 48s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 22s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye
      32s

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