This article will discuss whether you should consider sidechaining reverb and delay effects.
Reverb and delay are time-based effects artists use to create ambiance and space in a mix and a sonic signature. Artists like Post Malone use these time-based effects very differently from artists like Lana Del Rey and Bon Iver. However, they become problematic when they clash with other instruments or arrangements.
One way to deal with that is by using sidechaining, a production technique in which an effect or plugin is activated when an element occurs or triggers it. Sidechain compression is when you apply a compressor on an element in the mix that acts only when another element is played.
Sidechain compression is often used to fit together any two musical elements that clash in their frequency range. For example, you can apply a compressor on the bass track that compresses the bass only when the kick hits. That way, the kick can cut through without the bass clashing with it every time.
Similarly, sometimes the guitar may clash with the snare. In that case, for the snare to cut through, you apply a compressor on the guitar that is triggered by the snare only. So now, let’s understand the sidechain in the context of reverb and delay.
Should I sidechain Reverb & Delay Effects?
It’s not always necessary, but you can sidechain the reverb and delay effects by the dry signal you’re using these effects on so that the effects signal does not interfere with the main signal. So, for example, when you apply time-based effects on vocals, you can apply a compressor on the effects that duck down the effects when the dry vocals play and stop acting when the vocals stop playing.
Secondly, you should consider sidechaining the reverb and delay effects with another element or instrument only when they are masking that element in the mix. For example, when you use these effects on vocals, their tail may clash with synths or pads. So, you want the reverb and delay tail to compress or go down in level every time the synths or pads come so the instruments aren’t overpowered by it.
Similarly, for any track, you can use the original dry signal as an input to perform sidechain compression on its reverb effect, so the reverb signal ducks down when the dry signal plays. Again, that will prevent the reverb and delay effects from cluttering the mix.
Secondly, some tracks are quite reverb-heavy and may mask the rest of the mix. In that case, certain elements that get masked the most can be sidechained to the reverb and delay track so they can sit over it.
Lastly, sidechaining can also be used as a musical effect. For example, if the reverb and delay effects are too prominent, you can sidechain them with the kick, the baseline, or the snare drum to create interesting musical effects. But, again, this is just for experimental sake and is not necessary.
How do I sidechain reverb and delay effects?
We will see a step-by-step guide on how you can sidechain reverb and delay effects signal by the dry signal on which these effects are applied. In our example, we will use a vocal track. Firstly, send the vocal track to a mixer channel and route the vocal as an effect send to an effects/fx bus. Then, on the fx bus, load up a reverb plugin, followed by a compressor plugin with a sidechain feature.
On the compressor plugin, ensure that the sidechain is enabled and that there’s no makeup or auto-gain enabled. Set the plugin’s compressor settings, like threshold, ratio, attack, release, etc., as per your taste and needs.
Now let’s look at how you can do that in FL Studio. You can use any DAW and follow the above steps. Firstly, open the sampler window in which the audio is loaded and send the track to the mixer channel. You can do that by clicking and scrolling up on “TRACK,” which is at the top right of the sampler.
Next, go to the mixer window by clicking on the mixer icon, as shown in the image.
After that, on the mixer channel where the vocal track is routed, create a bus track by routing the signal from it to another mixer channel.
After creating a bus send, load up a reverb plugin on the fx/bus track, followed by a compressor plugin that supports sidechaining. For example, we have loaded the Valhalla vintage verb, followed by the Fab Filter Pro C-2.
You can now set up the reverb and adjust its parameters. What’s more important is that sidechaining is enabled on the compression plugin. In Pro-C2, enable the sidechain by clicking the “SIDE CHAIN” button and selecting the “EXT” option.
Ensure that “Auto Gain” is disabled in your compression plugin and there’s no makeup gain applied to it. Once you have set this up, the reverbed signal will be compressed or ducked down every time the dry vocal plays. Similarly, you can set up a similar send for a delay effect, as shown in the image below.
If you’re on any other DAW, you must route your dry signal to an effect send and load up a sidechain compression after your delay and reverb effects. That’s how you sidechain your delay and reverb signals.
In the above example, we have seen sidechaining of the reverb and delay effects by the dry signal, but sometimes we can also sidechain them using other elements. For example, while creating a room or ambiance for your drums, you may add various time-based effects, hindering the impact of the more hard-hitting and transient-heavy elements like kick and snare.
You can sidechain the drum room (or drum reverb or delay) by the individual kick or snare track. In the same way, you can find various creative ways to use sidechaining on reverb and delay effects to mix your song better and make your productions and arrangements more interesting. Similarly, you can sidechain ambient time-based effects on guitar tracks, piano tracks, synth tracks, etc.
To conclude, it’s only sometimes necessary to sidechain reverb and delay effects, but doing so can help you achieve cleaner and clutter-free mixes. If you want to go deeper and ensure that you maintain the impact of reverb and delay effects while keeping it clean, I recommend using a multi-band compressor.
That allows you to set up a compressor in only a particular frequency range of the reverb/delay and apply sidechain compression only to that range. Hope the article was oh help. Thank you for reading.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.