Recording studio

Sidechaining techniques with gates in the recording studio

Welcome to another Dojo. Last month, I covered in detail how to set up and use sidechain compression techniques to get that classic pop/EDM pumping sound on your rhythm guitar parts and other instruments in your mix. This time we’ll use the same setup techniques, but instead of sidechaining a compressor, I’ll show you the advantages of using a gate.


What is a portal? It is an audio circuit design (hardware or software) that operates relative to a set threshold, much like a compressor. The main difference is that although a compressor reduces the dynamic range (volume) as the audio signal passes above threshold, a gate reduces the volume of an audio signal as it passes underneath the threshold and cuts it off completely.

For those of you who play rock, prog, extreme metal, or anything that uses massive gain, you’ll probably use a noise gate to tame excessive pedal/amp noise (and maybe even the feedback) which would otherwise cause harum-scarum to run over every second of silence between every palm mute, plectrum hit, etc. The net result is super tight, punchy guitars that can stop in the blink of an eye.

The net result of using a gate instead of a compressor is that the guitar solo track will open instead of close.

Let’s be crazy right off the bat. Take a song you’ve recorded that has multiple instruments (full band with vocals or similar). Then create a new guitar track and record yourself playing a mean solo for the entire song. (I was guilty of this when I first learned the pentatonic scale.) Make it as wild as you want and add lots of signal processing too. Unleash your inner guitar demon.

Once you’ve accepted your “longest guitar solo” award, place a Gate plug-in on the track. I’m going to use FabFilter Pro-G ($179 Street), but another great choice is Waves C1 Compressor/Gate ($29 Street).

Now we can enter uncharted waters. Pick a track (like the snare, BGV chorus parts, or a cool rhythm part) and route that track’s output to the gate input on your new guitar solo track. Each DAW has slightly different ways of sidechaining, so like last month (see August column “Try Sidechaining for Greater Expression”), I’ll be using Pro Tools and following the exact same procedure – the only difference is that this time it’s a gate and not a compressor. I’m also reposting the same link, with instructions for non-Pro Tools users thanks to the Fab Filter website support page which has instructions for Studio One, Logic, Cubase and Ableton.

The net result of using a gate instead of a compressor is that the guitar solo track will open instead of close. For example, each time the snare hits, you’ll briefly hear where you were in your new solo track. You can then adjust how little or how long he remains audible before being forced into submission.

Figure 2

In Pro Tools, open the gate plug-in you placed on your guitar solo track [Fig. 1] and set the sidechain from internal (In) to external (Ext). Then in the “key input” menu of the plugin interface, which is just above the FabFilter logo [Fig. 2], choose Bus 1 instead of the default “no key input”. The gate is now looking for an external source to trigger it to open.

In Pro Tools, open the gate plug-in you placed on your guitar solo track [Fig. 1] and set the sidechain from internal (In) to external (Ext). Then in the “key input” menu of the plugin interface, which is just above the FabFilter logo [Fig. 2], choose Bus 1 instead of the default “no key input”. The gate is now looking for an external source to trigger it to open.

Figure 3

Now let’s buss the snare track to the gate of the guitar track. In the “Sends” slot of the snare track, select Bus 1. The Bus display window for Bus 1 will appear [Fig. 3]. Set its level to 0.0 dB (so it will send an audio signal to the gate) and select “PRE” (pre-fader) [Fig. 4]. You have now routed the audio (using bus 1) from the drum track to the gate sidechain input on the guitar track.

Figure 4

If you mute the snare track, you’ll be able to hear how it affects the guitar track. You can now play with Threshold, Attack, Ratio and Release. Start with a fast attack (0.010-0.025ms), high threshold, and medium release time (150-200ms), then adjust to taste.

I love doing stuff like that because every time the snare hits, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You can take it a step further and add reverb and delay to the guitar track to play more with the duration of the solo “blip”. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so keep experimenting and let me know if you find anything really cool by emailing me here. Keep sharing your musical passion with the world and, until next time, namaste.

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