Side Chain – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Sound Engineering Glossary

I. What is a Side Chain in Sound Engineering?

In sound engineering, a side chain refers to a technique where the input signal of one audio track is used to control the processing of another audio track. This allows for dynamic processing of one track based on the characteristics of another track. Side chain processing is commonly used in audio mixing to achieve effects such as ducking, gating, and compression.

II. How Does Side Chain Compression Work?

Side chain compression is a popular technique used in audio production to create a more balanced mix. In side chain compression, the compressor is triggered by an external signal, known as the side chain input. This allows the compressor to respond to the dynamics of the side chain input rather than the signal it is actually processing.

For example, in a typical scenario, a kick drum track may be used as the side chain input for a bass track. When the kick drum hits, it triggers the compressor on the bass track, causing the bass to be compressed in relation to the kick drum hits. This can help create a more cohesive mix by allowing the kick drum to cut through the mix without the bass overpowering it.

III. What are the Benefits of Using Side Chain Processing?

There are several benefits to using side chain processing in audio production. One of the main benefits is the ability to create a more dynamic mix by allowing one track to control the processing of another track. This can help achieve a more balanced mix by allowing certain elements to stand out while others are pushed back in the mix.

Side chain processing can also help create a more cohesive mix by allowing different elements to work together in a more controlled manner. For example, side chain compression can help prevent the bass from overpowering the kick drum in a mix by ducking the bass whenever the kick drum hits.

IV. How to Set Up a Side Chain in a DAW?

Setting up a side chain in a digital audio workstation (DAW) is a relatively simple process. Most DAWs have built-in side chain functionality that allows you to easily route one track to control the processing of another track. Here is a general guide on how to set up a side chain in a DAW:

1. Open your DAW and load the tracks you want to use for side chain processing.
2. Locate the side chain input option on the track you want to control the processing of.
3. Select the track you want to use as the side chain input from the drop-down menu.
4. Adjust the settings of the processing plugin to respond to the side chain input.
5. Play both tracks together to hear the effect of the side chain processing.

V. What are Some Creative Uses of Side Chain Compression?

Side chain compression can be used in a variety of creative ways in audio production. Some common creative uses of side chain compression include:

– Creating a pumping effect on a pad or synth track by side chaining it to a kick drum track.
– Ducking the volume of a vocal track whenever a lead guitar solo plays to make the guitar stand out more.
– Using side chain compression on a reverb send to create a more dynamic and controlled reverb effect.

These are just a few examples of how side chain compression can be used creatively to enhance a mix and create interesting effects.

VI. What are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Side Chain Processing?

While side chain processing can be a powerful tool in audio production, there are some common mistakes to avoid when using it. Some of these mistakes include:

– Overusing side chain compression, which can lead to a mix that sounds unnatural and overly processed.
– Not adjusting the attack and release settings of the compressor to properly respond to the side chain input.
– Using side chain processing as a band-aid for poor mixing rather than as a creative tool to enhance the mix.

By being aware of these common mistakes and taking the time to properly set up and adjust side chain processing, you can make the most of this powerful technique in your audio production projects.