Side Chaining a Noise Gate

Posted by James Cullen on

There are many tricks you can use to give your music more flavour. In my personal journey as a producer, I’ve found that the more comfortable and confident I get with the standard everyday techniques, the more I end up branching out and trying new and exciting things.

That’s not to say that what we’re going to show you today is super advanced by any stretch of the imagination, but the sounds it can give you are a lot more diverse than your standard run of the mill production techniques.

So, get a blank project open, get yourself a coffee and dive in with Top Music Arts as we cover the effects you can achieve when you side chain a Noise Gate.

What is a Noise Gate?

First of all, let’s briefly touch on what a Noise Gate is. It’s very similar to a Compressor, in that it uses a Threshold control to shape the volume of an audio signal. However, where a Compressor attenuates signal above this Threshold, what a Noise Gate does is attenuates audio signals below this threshold. So to use the Gate analogy, the signal only passes through the gate when it is above the Threshold, or the gate is ‘open’.

A common application of Noise Gates is to remove quiet artefacts or fuzz from a signal, for example an electric guitar might have the constant hum and hiss noise present in distortion effect units.

So, let’s move onto our exercise for today.

Set up the players.

First thing you want to do, is create a MIDI instrument channel in your DAW and load up a soft synth. Any will do, we just want a synth pad sound. I’ve used Ableton’s Operator with the 5ths 2 Filter Sweep Pad.

Draw in a chord in a MIDI clip, and make sure the project is looping around it so it will play over and over. You want to make sure your pad sound has a long release and sustain so we will be able to really hear the effects of the Noise Gate.


Next, load up a drum loop on an Audio channel. You can use any loop, but take note of how many transients are in the loop I’ve chosen. More of these transients means there will be more factors controlling the eventual sound we get from the side chained Noise Gate. The rhythm of your loop will directly control the rhythm of the side chained synth, so bear this in mind when choosing!

Open the gate.

Now, name your channels Synth Pad and Drum Loop respectively, and drop a Noise Gate onto the Synth Pad channel. You’ll hear an audible effect straight away, but before we do anything, select the Side Chain button, and make sure the source is set to the Drum Loop channel.


You’ll hear straight away the difference it makes to your synth pad. As soon as you apply the side chain, there’s an audible effect on it. What’s happening here is we are using the peaks of the Drum Loop channel to trigger the side chain on the Noise Gate. This means that instead of the signal being above or below a threshold to act as a trigger, we are taking the volume information from the other source, in this case the Drum Loop channel.

Experiment with the controls on the Noise Gate to get a sound you’re happy with, as there are many different uses of this effect, so there’s no one way to get it ‘right’.

How you can apply this.

A great way to incorporate this into your music is to experiment. The fun thing about side chaining is that the effect is applied when the trigger is audible or not. To hear what I mean, mute the Drum Loop channel as your project plays. This a great way to really hear the Noise Gate’s side chain effect in isolation, but it’s also a fun creative idea too.

Do you want to use just the Synth Pad in a track, and use that choppy rhythm as your main focus?

Or do you want to include the drums as well, and add a side chained synth pad to emphasise some of the rhythmic aspects?

You could even experiment with the interplay of the two parts, see how it sounds having one play, then both, then a different one. The point here is, there are lots of practical applications of this little effect in your music, so try it out.

Now, you don’t have to only use the two examples I’ve shown here. You can put a Side Chained Noise Gate on any instrument part, and you can also use any audio source as the trigger. Try doing just a kick drum pattern as the trigger, and it gives you a nice melodic accompaniment to your kick drums. 

The point here is, get creative and experiment. That’s often the best way to stumble upon fun little tricks like this.

So thanks for stopping by with us here at Top Music Arts for another little tip for enhancing your production skills. As always, stick around and come back soon! 

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