Using Expansion - the power of Side-chaining

Advanced tutorial on how to use the side-chain of an expander to create new textures.

Beat Construction


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I am often dismayed to find that so many would be producers are unaware of this wonderful process. It seems that EQ and compression are the ‘go to’ tools that most producers use for any given situation and yet there are better tools out there that have been designed and built for very specific tasks that would be better suited than the standard EQ/compression combo and expansion is one such process.

before we jump into using expansion let us take a quick look at what expansion is and how it works.

Upward and Downward Expansion

The basic distinction between compression and expansion is that compression narrows the dynamic range of a signal whereas expansion extends the dynamic range of a signal.

There are two basic forms of Expansion we use in music production – Upward and Downward Expansion, and the best way to explain them is to compare them to existing processes like a gate and a compressor. Whereas compressors narrow the dynamic range of a signal expansion does the exact opposite and extends the dynamic range. A downward compressor will reduce the audio signal above the threshold whereas an upward compressor will boost the audio signal below the threshold. Both narrow the dynamic range of the audio signal.

Downward expanders reduce the level of an audio signal below the threshold, making quiet sounds quieter. This extends the dynamic range of the audio signal.

Upward expanders boost the level of an audio signal above the threshold, making loud sounds even louder. This extends the dynamic range of the audio signal.

Expanders and Gates

Now that we know how expansion works let us look at how similar a downward expander is to a noise gate.
Whereas a gate (with its range control set to maximum) will completely silence any signal that falls below the threshold, the expander applies gain reduction the audio signal below the threshold, in effect, like a compressor in reverse.

BUT, an expander can be far more than a dynamic extension tool. If you use it’s side-chain feature you enter the world of sound design and advanced production processes.

In the video I show you how we use a kick drum and a pad sound and create a wide variety of sonic textures just by using this simple feature – the side-chain. I make sure to show you each and every step in how to set up the expander’s side-chain, what settings to use, and how to create different textures using the built-in features of the expander.

Plugin used in this video:

FabFilter Pro G

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Side-chain Expansion
  • Gates – Features
  • Threshold and Range
  • Attack, Hold, Rel and Knee
  • Ratio
  • Side-chain Filtering
  • Upward – Downward