Sidechaining In Ableton Live

Sidechaining is used extensively in all styles of music. It can be used to correct a mix, duck out a secondary audio signal or as a creative effect. But first you need to know how to set it.  

Sidechaining is one of those techniques that just keeps popping up. It’s something you can use in any genre and if you're a Live user you’ll be happy to know it’s accessible to you too. If you are new to the technique or just have no idea what it is then read on and all shall be revealed in this short, easy to digest tutorial.

Step 1 - Identifying The Audio To Process

Your first job here is to decide on the audio, instruments or loops you want to process. You’ll need to choose a sound that will act as the trigger for your compressor and a sound that will be compressed.

Essentially sidechaining (or ducking) is where a compressor takes a feed from any audio source and uses this to create gain reduction. When this compression is applied to another audio signal rhythmic gain reduction can be heard. 

Just about any two sources can be used for this technique but I have gone for the traditional kick drum and synth combo. This should give you a good idea of how Live handles its sidechaining and the results that can be achieved.

Below you can hear the two sounds we are going to use with zero compression added:

The two audio tracks we’ll be using.

The two audio tracks we’ll be using.

The two loops heard with no compression:



Step 2 - Loading the Compressor

Now load Live’s standard compressor on the track you want to effect. In this case it’s the synth we’ll be processing and so I have simply dropped the compressor (as an insert) directly onto the synth track.

You may hear some compression take place at this point. Don’t worry this is just the compressor’s default settings and we’ll change this in the next step.

A compressor is loaded into the synth channel.

A compressor is loaded into the synth channel.


Step 3 - The Sidechain Settings

You’ll now need to set up the sidechain routing, this is really easy and only takes a minute. Go to your compressor and open up the currently hidden section on the left. When open this section will reveal all your sidechain parameters. 

The side chain controls are revealed.

The sidechain controls are revealed.


Simply engage the sidechain function and choose the audio you want to use to trigger the gain reduction. In this case I chose '1-Audio' as this was the track that housed the drum loop. As soon as you do this your sidechain routing is complete!

Now just increase the ratio and threshold parameters until you see gain reduction occurring. You may also want to lower the attack time so that things are snappy. I also like to time the release with the track for a more transparent effect.

The final settings used.

The final settings used.

The final sidechain effect in action:



That’s it, you're done! Try experimenting with different sources and destinations and see what you can come up with. Once you learn how to route this effect you may wonder how you've lived without it!

Want to learn more about sidechaining in Live, compression and what the Threshold and Ratio controls actually do? Check out Mo's Live 8 202 - Live's Effects: Plugged In! and Olav Basoski's Live 8 404 - Making Electronic Dance Music.


Mo has been a professional in the music industry for around 15 years. He has released material with the world's leading record labels and also produces music for TV and Film. Mo is also a prolific writer and is a regular contributor to magazines such as Music Tech, Future Music and EQ magazine. There isn't a piece of music software tha... Read More

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