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Tips, Tricks and Road Stories


Make Your House/Dance Tracks Pump!

March 15, 2012; 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!

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