5 Sidechain Pumping Techniques for EDM
The quintessential sidechain pump movement in EDM follows a bit of controversy.
On the one hand, the effect of ducking the quarter note kick has been a rhythmic device in EDM for a long time. It’s fun, it’s energizing and it’s signature of many styles.
On the other hand, the pervasiveness of French and Dutch influenced House records has been rubbing off on every other style of EDM. In the fickle world of Electronica, things become played out fairly quickly.
So here a few ways you can incorporate that pumping movement into your production that might be a bit fresher.
What is it?
First, let’s briefly discuss what sidechain pumping is. It comes from the abuse of a mixing technique called ducking — specifically the ducking of a bass from the kick.
What this means is that the output of the kick track is fed to the sidechain detector circuit of a compressor. The bass signal is then fed directly through the input of that compressor, so that the bass level is attenuated by the kick.
Or in short: when the kick hits, the bass level ducks.
Done subtly, this can be a good technique for allowing the kick to glean a bit of clarity in a mix. When done not so subtly, it causes a pumping where the bass audibly drops out and ramps back up to its original level.
This can create a cool rhythmic effect, and EDM producers have extended this sidechaining technique to include not just the bass, but also synths, percussion, drum loops, and even as much as every single element in the record.
1. The Traditional Linear Release, Modded.
In a typical digital compressor, the release curve will be linear. Meaning after the kick has hit and time passes, gain is returned in an even way.
While this might be the standard go-to setup, my friend and esteemed EDM producer Akeksandar “Everbeatz” Jovanovic pointed out a good way to modernize this classic.
Rather than trigger the pumping with the whole of the kick drum (which is a fairly long decaying percussion instrument — relatively speaking), make a separate kick that’s all attack. Meaning cut the lows, gate if necessary, and use that as the trigger.
This will allow the release function of the compressor to kick back in more quickly, which makes the “drop out” effect much subtler.
2. The Logarithmic Curve
A logarithmic release curve is one where the initial release is fast, but slows down as the signal approaches its original state.
The original use of this curve is that it’s a bit more transparent than a linear release, and can be found in “optical” compressors. If you want a deep sort of pumping sound, but don’t want it quite as vacuumous as the pumping in a French House kind of record, consider using an optical compressor for your sidechaining.
Alternatively, use a compressor that has a knee function. You can get different logarithmic style releases by softening your knee.
Or don’t use a compressor at all! You can use tools like VolumeShaper by Cableguys to create the movement.
3. The Exponential Curve
This is the opposite of a logarithmic release in that the release is slow to begin with and speeds up over time. And likewise, while a logarithmic curve is transparent, an exponential curve is very obvious.
The benefit here is you can do a shallower pump with the effect of a deeper one, but with an overall more consistent level in terms of what you are effecting.
Off the top of my head I can’t think of a compressor that naturally does this, so you might have to stick with an LFO, VolumeShaper or manual automation.
4. The S-Curve/Gate
Another take on the pumping idea which is a bit more extreme is to divide the 8th notes.
In other words, to give a loop, synth, or whatever, almost complete attenuation for an 8th note, and then almost immediate return to full level for the following 8th note.
This can be done using an S-Curve automation shape, or by using an LFO with a square or soft-square shape. Or by simply using a triggered gate.
This effect is not for the faint of heart, but used artfully can create some serious groove.
5. Reverse Pumping
Instead of sending your kick through the sidechain of a compressor, you can send it through an expander. This will have the exact opposite effect.
When the kick hits, whatever you have sidechained to it will appear and then decay away.
Rather than giving a push-pull effect, this will have a sense of “rhythmic dropping.”
For awhile, this technique briefly appeared in the form of a programmed tape-stop that would repeatedly occur at the end of phrases in various Big Room tracks, but there’s no reason this idea can’t be further explored and used in all kinds of different ways.
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