In The Mix - Sidechaining

In The Mix is a new small series from JZ aimed at helping you engineers at home, in the studio, and (hopefully soon) on the road, to focus your goals and achieve the best sound possible with both JZ Mics and all other aspects of the 3 main aspects of our work: Recording, Mixing, and finally, Mastering.

What is Sidechaining?

Sidechaining is a simple process, but complicated as I remember at least, to understand conceptually. The basic idea is that you send a signal of one channel (Channel 2 for example) to the channel you would like the signal to effect (Channel 1).

By doing this, every time the Sidechain signal (Channel 2) passes above a threshold of a given effect - compression, gate, dynamic EQ, etc. it triggers the effect to happen on the chosen affected channel (Channel 1). As you can see this is becoming a little more complicated, but read through this paragraph a couple of times, and let's dive into a couple of examples of why this can become an effective tool to help you instruments become more dependable within your mix and bring a little more space to your track.

Bass Sidechaining

Creating a solid foundation for your track to sit on is integral to making your mix translate across all mediums, and sidechaining is a fast track route to success in many cases, especially in tracks that need a solid punch but not pushing through too much as to cause pumping.

Try adding a multiband compressor or compressor in general to your bass guitar or bass instrument (synth or similar) and send your Kick drum to the auxiliary send of the Bass Instrument (inputs 3 & 4 Usually) and change the compressor to recognize the input of the kick drum to every time it hits, the bass instrument is compressed allowing the kick drum bass signal to pass through for a brief moment rather than the two signals fighting for space in the mix.

Usually, to find this, the compressor usually has an ‘expert mode’, or a ‘settings’ where your sidechain settings are found - refer to the manual of the compressor you chose in this case.

When you sidechain bass components together, you allow them to take the pace of each other momentarily to make sure they don’t cause muddiness or unwanted boominess that can trick you into using an EQ and removing the bass frequencies for the entire track, not just a moment where they become bass-heavy for a second and then return to moderate for the rest of the song.

Doing this can result in the mix becoming fine for that split second, and then being thin and lacking for the rest of the track and you’ll be chasing your tail in the mix fighting for a level that works and never truly being happy with it; at least that’s how I found myself until I started using sidechaining in this instance.

Vocal Sidechaining

So you’ve got your incredible vocals, with your world-class mics like the BH1 or Vintage 67 for example, but you’re struggling to have it really shine through as it should…

Sometimes, no matter how much your EQ and create space using panning and compression, when you have several layers of guitar vocals, along with orchestral elements for examples like violins, or synths, etc. the vocals can become lost in the mix which leaves a lot to be desired.

I found that working down through the elements and then sidechaining the vocals to the guitars can work wonders, as well as focusing the vocals on the top register of the frequency spectrum to force space for the vocals to sit.

After EQ’ing the guitars, add a hard limiter to shave off the peaks only by -1/2db overall, with a fast attack and release, just to help level. If you’re using violins, remember to back off on the lower mid-range of the frequency spectrum, and try adding around 8khz if they’re becoming lost - again, a gentle compressor to help maintain an overall level for that element will help them shine through.

Finally, add a soft compressor, optical works well I usually find, to the guitar bus and sidechain your vocals to it. Make sure that when the vocals hit the compressor, it brings the guitars down by only 1-2db, no more or it will become noticeable.

You can do a similar thing with automation, but I find this works much nicer and it is far more musical to help your mix breathe as each part of the mix is bought in, especially when there are many layers involved.