Make Your House/Dance Tracks Pump!
By Michael Saladis
Quantization is absolutely vital in making tracks groove right, but if it’s used wrong, it
can actually make things static, boring and absolutely lifeless. Here some simple tips to keep some
life in your grooves:
- Four on the floor Kicks and Snares for dance need to be TIGHT, so they get 100% 1/4 note
straight to the grid baby, that way they really lock in. Obviously there are exceptions, but this
is pretty much my method.
- Now, other percussion such as hats, toms, rides, fx, and other kicks and snares get the
"groove" treatment. Try setting the quantization of these notes to various 1/16 note swing patterns
of different strength or even using a straight 1/16 note feel with the quantization strength turned
down to about 70% or so. This slightly "humanizing effect" will add a large helping of groove to
your beats and will ultimately make your tracks sound much less static.
Many sounds and instruments used for Dance music are quite heavy or thick, and when layered
together can often be muddy instead of full and groovin'. While it is common practice to reach for
the EQ when we want two sounds to gel together better, a side-chained compressor can be used for
some much more musical and creative results! Essentially, the compressor will duck the audio of the
track it is placed on relative to an external trigger from ANOTHER track that is "side-chained"
into the compressor.
- The process starts by determining which track will be the side-chain's "slave" and which track
will do the side-chaining. More often than not the kick is the trigger since it is the center
around which everything else is going to groove, so we'll use that! BUT, some experimenting can be
done using other percussive or dynamic sounds to get some cool effects! Now that we've chosen our
source audio, select a track you'd like to give some groove/pulse to, and insert a compressor on
its channel strip (NOTE: Make sure the compressor has side-chain capabilities! Most DAWs come
standard with this feature but there are compressors without it!). You could really choose any
track to be the "slave", but some ways I usually use it are added to a sustaining or quarter note
bass, a large pad or strings or even a main lead line.
- In the compressor, set the kick's audio track as the external side-chain source. In Logic this
can be found in the top right corner of the plug-in window, but every DAW is different. Now listen
back and you should hear the side-chained track ducking whenever the kick hits and rising back up
right after to fill in the 1/8 note offbeat. Finally, some groove! That's what it's all about! Now
the key is to mess with the compression controls to really dial in that pulse.
That's about all there is to it! My advice is to simply listen to the big names in dance and
house right now such as Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, Wolfgang Gartner and Dimitri Vegas
just to name a few. Their tracks will give you an idea of how this effect sounds in a finished
product, giving you somewhere to start tweaking your own sound! A couple of other tips when
side-chaining: make sure if the compressor has a side-chain selector switch it is set to external!
(D'OH!) Also, although every control is important to tweaking your sound, starting with the
threshold and release will give you some drastic differences that are better tweaked by the other
knobs in my opinion. Finally, I have included a picture of three compressors I use for
side-chaining so you can get an idea of some of the different features they have and what not
(NOTE: Although they have side-chains assigned to them, the settings are NOT set up for this
So don't try to copy them.).
Now get to your studio and make your tracks PUMP!
This article was submitted by a reader. If you have an idea for an article that will be
interesting to other musicians, amateur or professional, we invite you to submit it to us.
We will pay you $50 cash if we publish your article and will issue a prize for the best
article submitted each calendar quarter. At your request, if we publish the article,
we will include your name and e-mail address as
More details here