On Side-Chaining

So here’s something I’ve noticed recently: Side-chaining is everywhere in music these days.

So now for some context.

One of the effects that’s used really commonly in production is called a “compressor.” The compressor does pretty much what it says on the tin- it takes the audio and compresses the amplitude. It basically makes the loud parts quieter and the quiet parts louder, leading to a more balanced mix. This has the effect of making everything sound louder and more even, but also decreases the dynamic range, so if you want something really punchy and dramatic, it’ll get compressed down and lessen the impact.

There’s a big debate in the music world about how much compression to use. A lot of pop and electronic artists compress the crap out of their music, running it through three or more passes to get it to seem as loud as possible. At the same time, some people refuse to use compressors at all, preferring to use the most authentic audio signal possible, with all its spikes and dips. I myself fall comfortably in the middle. I use compressors very occasionally on individual tracks, only if they really need it, and usually throw a low-power one over the final mix, but that’s about it.

There is one neat trick that compressors can do, though, which is unquestionably useful, and that’s called “side-chaining.” Side-chaining is basically taking an effect on one track and using another track to trigger it; in this case, it uses the audio levels from one track to compress another track. What this does is really interesting: it means that when one track gets loud, the other will automatically get quieter (though it only works one-way). Side-chaining was invented for radio DJs so they could be heard over the music and not max out the signal, automatically making the music quieter when the DJ is talking, but it was adopted for use in music shortly thereafter.

Now that I know how to use side-chaining, I see it everywhere in music. If you listen close to almost any pop song, you’ll notice that whenever the bass drum hits, pretty much everything goes completely silent for a moment, then fades back in, creating a really neat pulsing sound and that driving drum-line that they love so much, as well as making the drums sound a lot louder than everything else, when really everything’s compressed to the same level in the end.

I confess, I do use side-chained compressors a lot, just because honestly, it sounds really cool, and they’re so prevalent that people have come to expect them. I find it’s really easy to lose the drums in a mix otherwise, and I’m not good enough at leveling to do that manually.

So anyway, I’m going to try to start putting up some stuff related to the creation of music, not just music itself, because there’s a really long stretch of time in-between when I actually put out any music. Writing music takes a long time, especially having realized that there’s a pretty much direct relationship between how much time I spend on a particular piece and how good the final product actually is.

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2 Responses to On Side-Chaining

  1. Antimatter2 says:

    Not on topic, but important. I was perusing this page’s source and I noticed it has no meta tags. Meta tags are HTML elements that are read by search engines to determine accessibility and search ranking. Right now, with no meta tags, I can only find this website by searching for “Underwhelming Force” Exactly. In WordPress, use the All-in one SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plugin to change the tags and add more information to search for. It’s like adding tags to Youtube videos, like “electronic” or “new england” or somesuch. Things that people who might be looking for something like this might search for.

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