A Cleaner Way to Sidechain in FL Studio
This tutorial will show you how to sidechain compress in FL Studio using the Fruity Compressor and the Peak Controller. There are many ways to sidechain in FL Studio but this method allows for the most control and does not require you to sacrifice any functionality.
For example, the method of sidechaining using the volume slider and the Peak Controller prohibits you from automating the slider anytime you are sidechaining. This method will give us more control over the shape of the sidechain envelope and will leave our volume sliders alone so we are free to automate as we please!
Let's get started.
Make a Sidechain Kick
For this tutorial I will sidechain a synth to the kick drum of the track. This is going to require three mixer channels: one for the kick, one for the kick's sidechain signal and one for the synth.
In my pattern editor I cloned my kick by right-clicking on its name and selecting "Clone". This will automatically route the cloned kick to our kick channel, but intstead we are going to route it to channel two, our sidechain signal channel.
Note that we do not want to hear the sidechain channel. To mute the sidechain channel we select it in the mixer and turn the knob that appears above the routing arrow on that master channel to zero. Essentially, we are making it so that the sidechain channel does not send to the master.
In this image you can see the sidechain kick being played in its channel, but since its send-to-master knob (selected in red) is set to zero, there is nothing coming out of the master channel.
Also a quick note. My mixer is displaying the waveform instead of the volume level. To switch between the two views, press Alt+W while viewing the mixer. The waveform view is great for visualizing how much our synth is sidechained and what our sidechain signal looks like. More on that later.
Setup the Peak Controller and Fruity Compressor
Now we are going to load the Peak Controller on the sidechain channel. This is going to internally route our sidechain kick to our compressor later.
Sometimes you hear people saying that once you load the Peak Controller you have to click the unmute button. This is only for users who want to hear their sidechain kick for whatever reason. Since we are not sending the sidechain to the master it does not matter anyway. It is fine to leave the default settings as they are.
In my case I have increased the peak tension to +40% as personal preference. The peak tension is that little green line to the right of the volume knob. This alters the shape of the curve used to map the volume peaks to the peak controller values.
Now let's load up the Fruity Compressor on the synth channel. In this case I have no processing or FX on the synth channel and the compressor is the only thing in the effect chain. In most other cases, when you have effects plugins on the synth you want to make sure that the Fruity Compressor you are using for sidechaining is the last effect in the chain.
Consider the contrary; let's say we are sidechaining a bass synth with distortion. If we do not put the compressor last and the distortion plugin comes after the compressor, there is a good chance that the distortion effect will create harmonic contect or a serious boost in volume.
If we do not put the compressor last, gains from the distortion effect will probably counter any volume reduction that our Fruity Compressor worked so hard to do! Always put your sidechain compressor as that last effect in the chain!
It is time to connect our Peak Controller to our compressor. Right click on the threshhold knob in the Fruity Compressor and select "Link to Controller".
This will open the "Remote Control Settings" window where we will connect our sidechain signal to our compressor. From the "Internal controller" dropdown select "Peak ctrl (Sidechain) - Peak". Next, click the little down arrow next to "Mapping formula" and select "inverted". You should now be looking at this.
So, what have done once we accept these settings? We are telling our Fruity Compressor to lower its threshhold when there is a positive Peak Controller signal. This is why we selected inverted; the louder the Peak Controller Signal (the louder our sidechain kick) the lower the threshold.
Before doing any sidechaining we need to set the ratio and the attack and release times in our Fruity Compressor. If the ratio is 1.0 the compressor will do nothing; in my projects the ratios range from 1.3 to 2.1. You will have to experiment as it is different for every case.
I like to set my attacks very quick and releases very quick. The release setting will have effect on the amount of "pumping" the synth will do as it is being sidechained. Longer release means longer time before the synth reaches full volume after the kick has passed. The shorter the release the more immediate the rise to full volume.
Since in my case I only want the synth ducked when the kick is being played I set my release to very short, so that the synth recovers right after the kick subsides. Leave the gain knob at 0.
At this point you might be saying, "Why is the ratio so low? When I use compressors to sidechain the ratio is much higher than one point something!" Let me explain.
This method of sidechaining is rather interesting if you think about it. Since our Peak Controller controls the threshhold knob in our synth, it is the threshold crossing our synth, not the synth crossing the threshold (like in regular cases when the threshold is fixed). The volume of your sidechain kick will change how far the threshhold goes down.
In the case of this kick the threshhold goes down to -50 dB at the transient peak of the kick, the first loud bit. As the volume of the kick tails off the threshold returns to 0.0. Since when the kick is at full volume the threshold is so low, we dont need very high ratios to reduce the volume by a good amount.
So how does it look and sound in this case?
By looking at the waveform (and listening with our ears) we can see that the synth is being ducked down when the kick hits. The waveform view is great for visualizing how the envelope of the synth changes when you change certain parameters.
Aside from messing with the ratio and the attack and release times there are other ways you can shape your sidechaining. In the "Remote Control Settings" you can change to formula mapping. The default inverted setting is "1-input". Changing it to "1-1.5*input" (or some other constant) will make signal that lowers the threshold much stronger (or weaker if the constant is less than one).
Another way I love to experiment is changing the volume envelope of the sidechain kick itself. Who said that the sidechain kick had to be the same as the audible kick?
In the following picture I have edited the sidechain kick's volume envelope to be a lot shorter and stubbier. This way the synth gets sidechained for a much shorter amount of a time, and is at full volume for more of each beat.
To change the volume envelope of the sidechain kick open up its sampler and select the "INS" tab. There you will be able to change the attack, decay, sustain, release settings of the volume.
In summary, we learned how to control a sidechain compressor with a signal that we do not have to hear. Our sidechain signal manipulates the threshold of our compressor, lowering the volume of the synth the most when the sidechain signal is the loudest.
This signal can be a clone of the kick in the track or can be any other sample which has the right shape for the sidechaining sound we want. Having a separate sidechain kick allows us to sidechain our synth even when there is no kick being played and gives us the more control over our synths.