Side-chaining Bass and Kick for EDM

Creative side-chaining techniques for low end management using compressors.

Beat Construction

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In EDM the drive element, which consists of the bass line and the kick drum (or even the whole drum beat), is managed by using a process we call ducking. This 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 and more importantly the compressor’ side-chain feature. The idea is to afford space for both the kick drum and the bass line to explore. When one sound, in this case a kick drum sequence, is playing the other sound (the bass line or bass sound) is attenuated and when the kick drum pauses or stops playing the bass sound rises in gain (volume).

Let us look at how the process works:


We use a compressor on the bass channel and activate the side-chain. We then send the kick drum to the side-chain input. The kick drum acts as the trigger. We set the  compressor to compress the bass line but not to gain compensate too heavily as this negates the whole ducking process. Every time the kick drum starts to play the bass line is attenuated or ducked and when the pauses in the kick drum sequence appear the bass line jumps back up in gain and we can hear it.

You can take this process a step further and use the side-chain filtering on the compressor to turn it into a frequency conscious trigger. In other words we can actually select a frequency range of the kick drum to trigger the ducking process.

Side-chain filtering

The part of the circuitry that monitors the input level is known as the side-chain, and it controls that part of the circuitry that adjusts the gain of the main signal path. Side-chains have both internal and external filtering. You can use filtering to specify which frequencies you want to filter from the circuit. A good example of this is to hi pass filter kick drums at 100 Hz. This means that anything below 100 Hz is ignored when activating the compressor. This is a great way to avoid clutter in kick compression. Additionally, we can specify a frequency range to act as the trigger. In effect, any frequencies that lie above and below this specified range are filtered and therefore ignored.

In the video I generate a kick drum sequence and a bass line riff and use various compressors to manage the marriage of the two sounds. I explain how a compressor works and how to use it for ducking purposes. I explain what ducking is and how to set up the compressor’s side-chain to act as a trigger. I then show you how to use the side-chain filter to turn the compressor into a frequency conscious trigger. I use 4 different compressors and explain how each one works and how to customise the settings to achieve various ducking results.

Plugins used in this video:

Novation Bass Station

FabFilter Pro C2

FabFilter Pro MB

Softube Tube-Tech CL1B

Steinberg Compressor

Topics covered in this video are:

  • What Side-chaining and how do you configure it
  • Low end management
  • Working with Filters
  • External Band Pass Triggering
  • Controls and Control
  • Routing practices
  • Creative techniques
  • Range and Threshold for Dynamic Control