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How To Make Your Music Pump—A Step-By-Step LFO Tutorial For Side-Chain Type EFXs

Side-chain compression is a common effect used in dance music that gives your bass / synth / vox / FX some movement and energy. Setting up a side-chain compressor can be tedious and tricky. LFO Tool is an incredibly useful simple plugin that can be used to replace side-chain compressors. Developed by producer, programmer and artist, Steve Duda. LFO is the answer to your side-chain needs.

Sidechain lowers the volume of a sound so that another sound can be present in your mix and is commonly used on bass sounds, lowering its volume when the kick drum hits.

Here is an example of a simple beat with a bass synth on top, without side-chain compression:

Audio Example #1

And now here is that same loop, with a touch of side-chain:

Audio Example #2

Simple, effective… and if you pay attention, you can hear it in almost every dance record.

Let me walk you through using LFO TOOL for Side-chaining. Keep in mind, many compressors, including the stock compressors included in your favorite DAW, offer side-chain features, however, LFO tool provides an unparalleled amount of control and ease, as well as adding pan, filter cutoff, and resonance controls.

Step 1: Grab your copy of LFO Tool. It’s only $25, and I promise you you’ll use it in every one of your projects for a variety of effects and functions.

Step 2: Install and verify / register LFO Tool. Open up your DAW of choice and any project your working on.

Step 3: Select LFO Tool, and inset it on your track of choice, just like you would an EQ or a compressor. Here I’m adding it to the bass track.


Step 4: In the upper RH Corner of the plug in you’ll see a preset tab. Click and drag down to select the side-chain presets. Here I’m selecting sidechain-1.

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Step 5: The Graph shows you how the volume curves every ¼ note. White anchor points adjust the curve. Play with these, move the positions, and listen to how it affects volume.


Step 6: On the lower portion of the plugin window, you’ll notice sliders that control “Rate”, “Swing”, “Phase”, “PWM”, and “Smooth”. A ¼ note rate is typical for the effect we’re going for. Once again, however, experiment with the various settings! Swing can add a nice sway to the effect, making it feel less rigid. If you notice any clipping or chopping of audio, adjust the “Smooth” slider to taste.


Other Notes:
At the top of the plugin window you’ll notice numbers 1-12. Each of these is a separate graph that can be assigned to control, cutoff, resonance, panning and volume. You could, for example, route graph 1 to cutoff and graph 2 to pan by simply toggling the numbers next to cut, res, vol on the right of the plugin. Move the blue slider to the right to engage the graph to your volume, etc. You can achieve some very interesting and intricate effects with these types of layered routings.



Finally, experiment, experiment, experiment! The sonic possibilities with LFO TOOL are amazing.

Nick Whelan is a graduate of the music production school, Icon Collective.
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