Sidechain Gating

A great way to add dynamic flow to your project would be to gate something using a DAW’s sidechain functions. Classic uses of this go back to early 1980s dance music, where you’d find kick drums controlling gate signals generated at sub bass frequencies, or a synth being chopped into 16ths from a gate receiving signal from a beat. This technique is extremely useful when keeping a track in time (which is why it’s heavily used in EDM) as it can also add qualities and relationships within the tracks you didn’t know existed. It can be used in a number of ways, methodically and creatively.

I found this video is particularly useful as it explains the process clearly how to set this up. This SOS article helped too in understanding other ways in which sidechaining can be applied when mixing

This technique is also popularly used to tighten up bass guitar tracks by gating them and feeding their key inputs with the kick drum — you can at least prevent the bass note from starting before the kick drum. Just make sure you set the hold and release controls to suit the type of sound you want. (Paul White, Advanced Gating Techniques, Part 1)

The sine kick trick in Pro Tools:

  • Firstly, take the track you want to control the gate i.e. KICK
  • Choose a Send (A) and select an available Bus (1) 
  • Select the Send and click PRE for pre-fade. Bring the fader up to 0dB [OPTION + CLICK]

  • Apply a gate the to track you want gated i.e. TONE GENERATOR 

  • Beside the key symbol    (or KEY), select the Bus you have sending (1)  
  • Locate the sidechain enable option and press it  
  • Once you’ve set the ratio, tweak the attack and release times until you have something that appeals to your taste. Adjust the threshold throughout to control the gate. Watch your times though, as you can begin to get an undesired (or desired!) crunching effect if you don’t leave enough time between opening/closing.

*Remember if you are going for a sine kick effect, you need to create an Aux track and select Signal Generator

An absolute in-sine (ho ho ho) example of this comes from amazing dance producer TEED (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs). Orlando Higginbottom (I know…) came out with Bournemouth in 2009. I first heard it from my friend Roy, through two of his twin 18″ L-Acoustics subs. I sound like a Skrillex fanboy, but, I veeerry nearly had to go to the toilet. It was ridiculous.

Anyway, I call around 45Hz sidechained to that kick beat (1:10). It sounds like it’s double-sidechained so that there’s a continuous ‘doo, doo, doo, doo…’ sent to one bus, and also a ‘swelling up’ warpy effect on another (next blog on parallel sidechaining?!)

I think he’s a fantastic EDM and house producer and has collaborated[written] with[for] many great artists. You may have heard his track Garden being synced with Nokia phone adverts.

A cool thing about sidechain gating is that by controlling the time for a gate to open, you can have one instrument trigger another without immediate effect. I’ve made the bass here swell up from the kick beat to achieve a more interesting sound. It also defines the transients of the kick beat too, and this is important in a track like this – to maintain a strong beat.

Here is a MIDI triggered bass along with the beat:

With SC gate enabled, and a slow attack to create the swelling effect:

Hear how the bass does not impact the kick beat. It is allowing more space for the beat to manoeuvre in what would be a busy mix. This swelling technique is (over)used in a lot of (‘filthy‘) dubstep production, to help towards that ‘wob wob wob’ effect.

Using a tone generator can add extra character to an existing signal. Here I have routed the bass into the gate plugged in to the tone frequency track. Without the gate sidechained, all you’d hear is the tone playing throughout, regardless what the bass is doing.

Here is the tone gated:

Just the beat and synth:

The beat with sidechain gated synth (with the original track thrown in):

I gave all this a spin in Studio A at uni. Sorry for the phasing, I should really get Elluminate Live or something…

These are all extreme examples, however when used subtly and by creating track relationships it can definitely improve the sound. It opens up so many more options, and can appeal to just about any genre. It completely depends on who’s mixing and for what style, so it’s a matter of balancing a sound which appeals to the rest of a track. When using the gate controls in more depth, you can also notice creative changes to the entire feel of the music.

You may want to view the sister post to this entry, Sidechain Compression, where I run over similar issues but with the power of using compression.


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