Sidechain compression

Pump the music and other tricks

  • The basics
  • Multiband compression and sync
  • Other tips 
  • Freezing
  • Sidechaining with a non-native compressor

sidechain compression in Ableton Live

The basics

Sidechain compression (aka ducking) is used to create the pumping effects in dance music, or more subtly to allow one instrument to be heard over another. A common use is to sidechain bass, pads or samples to the kick for a pumping effect. 

In Ableton Live sidechain compression is very easy. Load a Compressor to your track, click the sidechain toggle. Select your trigger in Audio From, and select pre FX or post FX in the box underneath. Select FF1 and drop the threshold. Try it with a pad and use a kick for the trigger, with the volume turned down. 

Here is the pad on it's own:



Here sidechained to a kick:



And now with a copy of the kick track, with the volume up:



To get it right you need to play around with the attack, release, and maybe the ADSR of the trigger itself if it is an inaudible track like the example described above. 

Multiband compression and sync

M Lovers have a rack available free here. Download the Advanced Sidechaining Rack. It looks like this:

M Lovers advanced sidechaining

There is a tutorial video at the link. With this you can sync to tempo, and also sidechain only the lower frequencies if you wish. You can also try their Main Sidechain rack.

Other tips 

You can sidechain to anything, you might sidechain some percussion to the clap/snare. I do this on my percussion group, which is just for loops, like real shakers. My programmed percussion tracks are in with the drums group. You can sidechain to the actual kick you are using, a copy of it, or a trigger as in the M Lovers video. Try sidechaining one instrument to another. The important thing is to get the groove right, and the only way to do that is to listen and tweak. Just remember that if you sidechain to the actual kick and add some off beat kicks, that is going to cause ducking as well, plus you can't have the ducking sound where there is no kick, so best to use a silent copy of the kick or separate trigger.


You can't freeze a track with a sidechain compressor on, so it's a good idea to have your compressor on a separate audio track. This also means you can route more than one track to it. See also the routing tutorial. This is how you route it:

sidechain compression routing in Live

You can put sidechain compressors on return tracks, but then you will only get half the effect. Also you can use magic sends, as described in the routing tutorial, to make returns work like inserts, but affecting as many tracks as you want. 

Sidechaining with a non-native compressor

Here's the routing for this for anyone who wants to use a different compressor. There's nothing wrong with Live's compressor, but often people do use different ones for different things. This is shown with The Glue. It may work with other compressors. The compressor in on a separate audio track for the reasons described above.

sidechain compression with The Glue in Live

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