Using Side-Chain Trigger Tracks

Side-chaining is an essential part of electronic music, not only is it able to give the kick drum more room in the mix, but the upwards volume release on the off-beat follows the bouncing of a hyped crowd. Here, we'll consider the benefits of using various triggers for the side-chain compressor and why using the kick drum mix may not always be the best option.

Triggering With the Main Kick

The fist and most obvious way to trigger the sidechain compressor is to use the kick drum in the song. It means that every time the kick drum plays, you will get the reduction on the compressed track.

This has the benefits of carving out often-needed space for the kick and is perfect for most uses. Where this method may fall short however is when the kick drum stops playing - perhaps during a build - but you want the pumping effect to keep going to maintain the sense of beat while emphasising the kick's absence.

To get around this, you could render the a part of the synth playing when the kick also plays and copy it over to the needed section, but that may not work if you are using automation to change the timbral qualities of the sound at different parts of the song.

The other downside is that if the kick does play on the offbeat, you will get a bounce in the synth respective to that kick. This may interrupt the flow and swelling of the synth if it is regularly pulsing and so often you want a constant beat as a trigger.

Triggering With a Muted Kick Track

This method of triggering solves the above issues, as long as you have it exclusively sending to the sidechain trigger input, and not to the output, then it will never be heard. It will however allow the pumping to continue on each beat throughout the track.

By toggling the "Master send"  box in Reaper, you 
can control whether the track plays 
out or not.

When the main kick drum stops playing, this will continue the bounce and, if you don't want the sidecaining to happen at any point, you can use automation to bypass it or reduce it.

The other great thing about having a muted kick track is you can have several, each with different rhythms or offsets. For example, you could have a muted kick on each beat sending to the basslines and synths as is traditional, but you could have a second muted track where the kick falls on the offbeat.

This means you can send it to a smaller element which could pump at a different time to the main elements and sound really interesting!

Solving Other Issues

The downside to a muted track trigger is that any off-beat kicks from the main, audible kick drum won't be given as much room (if you are using sidechaining as a tool to make room). This can be solved however with several methods. Choose the best for your song:

  •  Use both as triggers - the main kick drum lightly triggers a gentle sidechain compressor to make some more room for the kick, then add a second compressor and use the muted trigger track to generate the much harder pumping. This will allow some more room for the off beat kicks while maintaining the overall pulse of the compression.

  • Make any off beat kicks quieter - this will prevent using up all your headroom and remove the need to carve extra room for it. You will then be able to use the muted track for the overall pulse without any off beat trouble.

  • If you have all the time in the world, you could automate the send to cut out any off beat kicks.

As long as you consider the benefits of both and know when to use each method, your tracks will sound tight.