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.

G

Find me on SoundCloud!

Hallo,

I run a SoundCloud account, which I like to use to host any work that I’ve been doing. You’ll probably find embeds scattered across this site, so don’t be feert to have a lookie. Thanks!

Greg’s SoundCloud

G

What’s that? You asked what I’ve been up to?

Quite a few things, really.

MMP – Good News!

Taking on a pretty big project – probably biting off more than I can chew. It basically involves me writing a module on live sound and teaching it to a group of six students from The Academy of Music and Sound. Got the go-ahead a few days ago after a meeting with their head, Jonathan Tait. It was a brilliant meeting and it went well – I was quite nervous because he was calling the shots whether I can use his students or not. He welcomed the idea with open arms and offered his full support – great success!

He took the email I prepared and circulated it around the Academy, to which I’ve already had 9 responses! I now have to take all applicants and filter them down so that I have at least one drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist… Might be tough as I haven’t had any drummers reply yet!

It was an uplifting feeling though, that people are interested in working alongside me, however now I must rise to the challenge I’ve set myself. I aim to work hard at this for the next few months, and will begin teaching the module in January. My biggest worry is that I don’t get enough work done, resulting in a disappointing end product. The last thing I want to do is let these guys down and create a bad reputation for myself…

Wee Red Bar

I’m forever busy working at the amazing Wee Red Bar, at the Edinburgh College of Art. Absolutely love it there and it’s the perfect venue for a young live sound engineer.

During busier months, I was used to doing up to 3/4 shows per week but now I’m down to 1 or 2. Suits me better anyway for when uni work sets in – tend to get carried away with work!

There’s been some cracking gigs happening the past couple months. Some of these include:

Kaiho, Frightened Rabbit, Hector Bizerk, Dead Boy Robotics, Warren MacIntyre & the Starry Skies and techno DJ Ben Sims.

Hector Bizerk was probably the most memorable. They rocked up from another gig in Glasgow to play on a five band bill *shudders* with a 15-channel tech spec. I had 10 minutes to: reverse the previous stage setup, frantically rip apart the stage box for a whole new patch, throw extra D.I.s and mics in, set up their gear/electronics AND line check the entire setup, ready for their unique hip hop sound. Was one of the quickest changeovers considering, however they sounded fantastic as they’re a great act and really nice guys.

Cab Vol

After a rather controversial change of hands in Cabaret Voltaire‘s operations, I’m back working there doing club shifts. Technically, everything’s changed in terms of control and overall sound. We have no mixing desk and outboard now, just a few switches controlling the amp levels of each room. All the lighting is automated and without a desk, meaning there’s no creative control over this. It’s a shame because even the little things like the timed flashing of par cans or building up a heavy strobe effect all makes a positive difference to people’s nights. Now, it’s too bright and colourful in the club, making it look cheap and cheesy. As for the sound, well, don’t get me started.

Bands

I’m still regularly playing bass with northeast ceilidh band, Ceilidh Stomp. We’re very busy in the wedding season and also with parties/fundraisers. I play with some great musicians including Liam Flaherty who first got me involved with the band. Clare Penny runs the band and is a ridiculously hardworking woman – definitely the most organised band I’ve ever been in! As I find myself performing less and less, it’s great to have gigs lined up as I’m busier with other work, and it’s a great source of income!

Getting things going with Bertrand. We’re an alternative rock four piece and have been together for a while now. I’ve been in the studio doing a bit of recording with drummer Ben  where we laid some tracks down, also experimenting with a few different ideas. Hopefully in the next couple months you’ll have some proper recordings to listen to, as we only have demos with MIDI drums at the moment. We played at The Wickerman Festival in July and have just been to The Third Door supporting The Glitch. Anyway, yeah, I hope to begin tracking more of our songs soon. Stay tuned!

G

New Facebook Page!

Along with this website and Twitter, you can now view my public page for all things sound engineering! You’ll find news on live and studio work, complete with an obligatory collection of swanky close-up shots of expensive microphones.

Be sure to give us a ‘Like’, and ‘Share’ if you think I’m cool enough.

Greg Smart Sound Engineer’s Facebook Page

G

Best be prepared, eh?

Well,

After finally getting to grips with uni again (yeah, it took three weeks), it was soon realised it was time to up the ante. As last year’s sufferers clearly stated – “Fourth year is no joke. No joke.”. Since the year will no doubt become bleaker and bleaker, it is essential to prepare for it as much as possible. I don’t always sound this optimistic.

New gear

I hope to acquire a number of things soon which will contribute to my small flat studio setup. Currently, I run no recording platform, as Apple’s transition to Intel has left thousands of us stranded with no compatible software. Looking forward to the jump from Pro Tools 8 LE to version 10, as I’ll finally be able to take my sessions anywhere – recording live gigs, mixing on the train, archiving different engine noises from the street (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Along with summer’s big purchase – a new MacBook Pro, I want to upgrade my RAM so that Pro Tools doesn’t throw a strop at me for hitting the spacebar. 16GB ‘oughta do it.

Next has got to be new studio monitors. I’ve used this haggared old AIWA amplifier to power these ancient Taiwanese factory cabinets for too long now. There is a severe imbalance from LR and the power handling ratings aren’t compatible in the slightest. Ohmy God. Been looking at either Yamaha HS50Ms, KRK Rokit 6s or M-Audio BX5 D2s as a cheaper option. Any suggestions?

Work

Without work there is no money, and without money there is no new gear, and without new gear there will be a trembling ball of stress resembling the latter stages of Brian Wilson’s mix insanity, residing in the corner of the MIDI labs using that ‘precious’ final slot allocation to wait patiently as the beachball of death taunts you. So you guessed it, I like to take uni work home with me.

I’ll continue to work at The Wee Red Bar as resident sound engineer, as well as the odd shift in other venues such as The Third Door. It’s also great to lift heavy shit from time to time, too. I do this with Diamond Event Services where I’m hired as Support Crew, having worked on recent events for TED Global and at the SECC in Glasgow. The more comfortable I feel with uni work, the more I want to experience proper freelancing. Now and then I’m called up to sound a show, this is where the real buzz comes from and as much as I like venue work, my first tour is a not-too-distant objective.

Having performed with north-east band Ceilidh Stomp for the past two years, I have managed a steady income from wedding gigs, allowing myself some pocket money!

Hopefully by having the time to make some money, I can purchase the new toys I want. Overall, they will definitely contribute towards my productivity in the Production & Professional Practice module.

G

Sidechain Compression

I’d like to discuss a very interesting technique known as sidechain compression. What this method entails is the ability to control a compressor by the feed of another signal. There are many uses for this in mix production such as using the transients of a kick drum to compress a heavy synth to create a pumping effect. In doing this, each beat from the kick will compress the synth, squashing it down for a desired time, until the compressor allows the synth back up to level.

A step-by-step video demonstrates simply here how to achieve such an effect:

  • Firstly, take the track you want to control the compressor i.e. KICK
  • Choose a Send (A) and select an available Bus (1)  

  • Rename the Send appropriately i.e. KEY COMP 

  • Select the Send and choose PRE for pre-fade. Bring the fader up to 0dB

  • Apply a compressor the to track you want compressed i.e. SYNTH

  • Beside a key symbol   (or KEY) select the Bus you have sending      (KEY COMP)
  • Locate the sidechain enable option and enable it  

You will notice that the sound of your compressed signal may have changed. Experiment with the threshold first to find at what point the Send signal (KICK) is compressing the affected track (SYNTH). Play about with ratios, attacks and releases to find a desirable level of compression. The affected signal can change dramatically with subtle changes to the plugin, so get used to what function serves what!

For example, here is a compressed hi-hat track being controlled by the snare track signal:

It’s exaggerated so you can hear what the hats are doing. They’re ‘ducking’ to allow the snare transients to stab through, creating the illusion of it becoming louder. This can benefit tunes where the snare really needs to poke through the mix, as it momentarily decreases the impact of the hi-hats

The following examples are extracted from a session for my Production & Professional Practice module at Edinburgh Napier University. They are all associated with the track Word I Never Said – Lupe Fiasco, produced by Alex da Kid.

This is just the beat and synth together, no trickery applied:

Compressed synth sidechained to drums signal, listen for when drums are muted:

You can notice a definite change in the synth information. It becomes more dynamic, and for that reason it allows the beats to continue with their solid rhythm, as the range of the synth fluctuates. Hear when the drums are muted, you can sense the whole character of the synth has changed. It takes a lot of experimentation to reach a desired effect, and you need to make sure it fits the music – gimmicks will ruin a great track.

G

Welcomings

Hello there,

Welcome to my website and blog. This is going to be used as an opportunity to develop my online presence in accordance to Edinburgh Napier University’s module Production & Professional Practice. You will find written blogs, news, pretty photos and tutorials all based upon sound production values. I will aim to update this weekly, however as I’m new to blogging, it may not pick up for a while or never.

As for myself, I am assigning myself as a live sound engineer, producer and studio engineer. Through the next year, I will learn a great deal about my trade, and so I present to you my virtual learning curve. Through posting blog entries, I reckon it will tell me a lot about myself and how I connect my words with other people (you, yes you). It will also reinforce what I’ve learned by putting it into words – It’s all very well you can do it, but could you explain how it’s done?

Musically, I don’t have many static influences, as my taste changes all the time. Like many, I’m one of those people who simply cannot answer “What’s your favourite band/genre/microphone?”. If it sounds different, has a good dynamic, lets off a nice vibe (corny, I know) or generally alters my mood, then I’ll think it’s great.

I love things that sound daring or have been produced differently. There’s no right or wrong answer in this industry – everything is based on subjective judgement and it is my job to produce work that appeals to the listener, but delivered in a unique way.

G