Ducking Effects in Real-time using Vocal Triggers

Learn how to duck any effect anywhere within a mix using the vocal track as a trigger for the side-chain of the compressor that attenuates the effect.


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Ducking Effects in Real-time using Vocal Triggers is a video tutorial outlining how to use compressors and their side-chains to conduct various ducking processes.

Ducking is the term we give to the process that entails one sound or event being used to attenuate (lower in gain/volume) of another sound. The common processor used for ducking is a compressor.

Ducking has been around since the advent of broadcasting. Traditionally ducking is used to manage the volume between the broadcaster and the background music. I am sure you have heard this effect before. Every time the broadcaster speaks the background music lowers in volume.

In today’s world of ever-evolving cheap technologies, we can handle mixes with high track counts. But there is a price to pay and it is called ‘congestion’. When you have so many sounds fighting for space in the mix it can become a nightmare managing the gains of all the various channels. Automation is a solution but it is very time consuming and laborious so we turn to an industry technique that uses one sound to attenuate another – ducking.

Side-chain Compression

The process is quite simple and something I am sure you have come across when it comes to managing the kick and bass in a mix. Quite often the bass and kick will be fighting each other for space, so we use one to duck the other. Every time the kick plays the bass is ducked slightly. This allows the kick and bass to sit together in the same space. We achieve this by placing a compressor on the bass channel’s insert. We then activate the compressor’s side-chain and use the kick to trigger the side-chain. We shape the behaviour of the compressor using its built-in features making sure to correctly set the threshold, attack and release values. Finally, we can use the side-chain filter to specify exactly which frequencies of the kick duck the bass.

Effects also suffer from congestion and when you have so many instances of reverbs, delays etc you can imagine how quickly the headroom will get eaten up and how dull and mushy your mixes will sound. However, the biggest problem with running multiple effects on vocals is that of loss of clarity. When a vocal is sung we want to hear all the elements in the vocals. Reverb has the uncanny effect of dulling vocals if used excessively or poorly. The trick we use is to duck the reverb when the vocals start and allow the reverb to gently bleed in over time.

In the video, I explain how a compressor works outlining all the common features available for this wonderful process. I cover, in detail, the side-chain of the compressor and how to use it for ducking a sound or an effect. I run through an example using side-chain compression on a delay effect channel and using the vocal to trigger the side-chain thus ducking the delay effect whenever the vocals start to sing.

Plugins used in this video:

Waves Renaissance Compressor

FabFilter Pro C2

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Compression
  • Real-time Ducking
  • Understanding Threshold and Range
  • Side-chain
  • Triggering
  • Delay Ducking
  • Timing Ducking
  • Internal Filtering
  • Tips and Tricks

If you found this tutorial helpful maybe these will also be of benefit:

Compression Masterclass

Using Expansion – the power of Side-chaining

Using Side-Chaining to Duck Reverbs on Vocals

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Side-chaining vocals against the mix

Vocal Production Masterclass