So, what the hell is ducking? Ducking is a term that refers to audio that incorporates the
“side chain compression” technique. So, what the hell is sidechain compression?
When the volume on one track is turned down to give room for another track to play. It’s popular in radio; when the DJ turns down the mix to ramble on about something unimportant. That’s the most popular example, and we’ve all heard it. But it’s also used in music – electro is a good example, as well as some of the hip hop tunes created by J Dilla.
So, firstly, let’s talk electro. You know how a lot of tunes in this genre have that ‘pumping’ sound to them? You hear the kick drum play out, and then you hear a synth bass that sounds like it’s getting as loud as possible. If you listen to it with headphones on, it has a jarring but igniting sound to it. How is this achieved? Through the use of ducking!
When the kick plays, everything else stops (more or less) and then, after the kick has played, the synth or instrument sample is brought back from it’s silence and screams at you for a half of a second, until the next kick drum, when the process is repeated.
The same technique is used, as I said, in some hip hop production. I think it’s easier to hear in hip hop, because, for one thing, the rhythm is typically slower. With electro, tracks can be so tangled and fast that it can be hard to pick apart what you’re hearing. I’ll point out, also, that when I say it’s “tangled and fast,” that’s not a negative assessment, it’s just an observation of an aesthetic. In fact, some of the coolest music I’ve heard comes from incorporating musical techniques that… well, for lack of a better phrase, trick the listener (I remember when I first heard Fatboy Slim, when I was a kid, I thought I was listening to a magician working his magic on some incredible bassy breakbeats! “How can anyone be doing this with sound? What a genius! What magic!” …then I discovered the ‘magic’ of the sequencer, and I at once began making electronic music, and, at least initially, ripping of Fatboy Slim like a carnie rips off carnival-goers…)
Here’s a great example of ducking, by one of my favorite hip hop producers, Samiyam…
I feel like I could make a top ten for duck’d beats. If there’s any interest in that, I have no problem doing it :)
And now, for the producers in the room, let’s get on to the beat of this article… How can you effectively side-chain compress your beats?
I would first like to point out that it is entirely possible to do it with a regular sequencer, using the hand-drawn or hand-crafted approach, manually adjusting the volume yourself, or copying and pasting a few hand-done volume adjustments. I do that with Acid Pro all the time. But, I know a lot of artists would likely prefer the automatic route. There are ways to do it with Ableton Live, and with a lot of the other big-name DAWs. Thankfully, we live in the era of Youtube, and there are easily-searchable videos to figuring all that out, depending on what software you specifically use.
Beyond that, here are some links to plug-ins that are specifically designed for sidechaining. Happy ducking!
– Slim Slow Slider’s Side Chain Compressor (Windows)
– DBAudio’s Sidechain Compressor (Windows)
– Twisted Lemon’s SideKick 4.3
– Variety of Sound’s Density mkII (Windows)
– Cockos ReaPlugs VST FX Suite (Windows)