Side-Chaining Subs in Techno (How I Do It)

By: NOMADsignal

July 17, 2019


The side-chain feature is dominant in electronic club music. The technique is especially useful for producing a clean, and powerful mix down. If you want your kick drum to punch through without phasing, you need to apply the side-chain technique.

There are several ways to do this. I will discuss two ways here.

The first way is using the standard Ableton Compressor, and engaging the side-chain feature.

You can create a midi channel with notes that follow the kick drum pattern, though leave the channel off. Then pull this signal into the Compressor and play with the settings (ratio, attack, and release) to get the pumping to taste.

Above you can see the a side-chain channel with the corresponding midi notes, telling the Compressor when to duck. The Channel is set to 'off,' (Channel "41" is in grey) meaning it does not playback any audio to the Master Channel.

Using a separate channel with controllable midi allows you to select where and how the side-chain happens. For example: you may have a section (possibly during a transition or break) that has the sub frequencies (ex: 80hz and below) temporarily filtered out of the kick, and you want your side-chain effect to be less apparent. You can do so by reducing the Velocity of the midi notes right above that filtered section.

If you're going to use the side-chain compressor method, make sure you set your Compressor's Threshold to -∞db. You want to 'clear out' all frequencies while your kick drum initially hits. Then, set the release time to smoothly roll the sub back in as the kick signal fades.


The second way to side-chain the sub frequencies is by manually applying 'clip faders' to the audio directly. It gives the user the most control, visually and sonically, of how the side-chain is shaped.

This requires you to re-sample your sub frequencies, or that they be in an audio clip format.

First, select the 'Fades' tab in the channel drop down menu on the right, in the Timeline view.

This will make the Fades buttons visible. You can grab these by clicking on them, and then dragging them to the desired position.

The key to this next step is to set the sub to fade in as the kick drum is fading out. If you've done it right, you will hear it in your studio's monitors: the kick will come through clean and powerful. As the kick signal ends, the sub will sweep in.

This will fill out your sub frequency area with minimal phasing.

I hope this helps!

Any questions or suggestions? Email me at: nomad @ nomadsignal .com.

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