Ducking is a really neat compressor trick that can save you a lot of grief when mixing. The trick works with any Softube compressor, but we'll use Valley People Dyna-mite as an example. Here's how you can use ducking to improve your mixes!
You've probably heard it a million times: A radio announcer speaks on top of some music that's playing in the background. Every time the announcer says something, the music's volume gets pressed down, and every time there's a pause in the talking, the music hurls right back at you with full force. This effect is called ducking—the thought being that the music's volume ducks for the sound of the announcer talking.
While ducking can be insanely annoying if overdone, it's a trick that can be used to great effect in music mixing, especially when you use it subtly.
While ducking can be insanely annoying if overdone, it's a trick that can be used to great effect in music mixing, especially when you use it subtly. For example, there are many occasions where you might find yourself with a kick drum and a bass instrument (such as a bass guitar or a bass synth) that struggle for the same space in the frequency specter. This results in an undefined low end mess. And while your gut reaction may be to EQ the two into submission, this may instead net you an overly separated low end that doesn't gel and where the instruments won't work as a unity. In these cases, slightly ducking the bass instrument with the kick drum can be a great solution. And of course, it can be combined with EQ:ing and other tricks.
It's not only Valley People Dyna-mite that will work for sidechaining, actually any Softube compressor works just as well. But the Dyna-mite's fast and ruthless response is often just what the doctor ordered when you need things to quickly get out of each other's way and then reappear as if nothing happened.
The Dyna-mite's fast and ruthless response is often just what the doctor ordered when you need things to quickly get out of each other's way and then reappear as if nothing happened.
Get the duck out of my way!
In the situation where you want the bass to duck at every kick drum hit, you insert the Valley People Dyna-mite on the bass channel of your DAW. How you set up the sidechain function depends a bit on which digital audio workstation you work with. So if you're not sure how to do that, I recommend you to check out the manual or one of the great video tutorials there are.
With the sidechain properly set up so that the kick drum signal is fed into the sidechain of the Dyna-mite on the bass channel, set the Dyna-mite's Input Detector switch (the left one labeled DET) to its Ext setting. This means the Dyna-mite will only "hear" the dynamic changes of the kick drum (the external sound source), and not the bass. But the reaction from the Dyna-mite on the kick drum input will still affect the output volume of the bass—so when you have set things up correctly, you will have the bass ducking every time the kick drum hits.
The next thing you need to do is to set the Dyna-mite's MODE switch to Limit and the right detector (DET) switch to either Pk (peak) or Avg (average). Pk gives a snappier and more aggressive response, while Avg is a bit gentler. After this, set the Threshold knob so that you'll see the Gain Reduction meter react every time the kick drum hits. And then set the Release time so that the volume of the bass returns in a manner that is musical and nicely in time with the song.
Set the Release time so that the volume of the bass returns in a manner that is musical and nicely in time with the song.
If the kick drum is very dynamic, with big differences between soft and strong hits, it may be a good idea to use the Dyna-mite's Range knob. What it does in this case is controlling how strongly the kick drum will affect the bass guitar. If you turn it all the way up to 0, there will be no reaction from the Dyna-mite however strong the kick drum hits are, so this is more or less equivalent to bypassing the Dyna-mite entirely.
Ducking doesn't only work for making bass and kick drum fit in together. It can also be very cool to use the lead vocal to slightly duck chord instruments like guitars and pianos. These often take up the same frequency range, and just a few decibels go a long way of keeping the vocal in focus without dwarfing the chord instruments by turning them too far down or EQ:ing them to get out of the vocal's way. If you have room mics or reverb on the chord instruments, it can also be a nice trick to duck these with the vocals. Have fun!