Figure 1: The rhythm guitar track has a gate plug-in with a sidechain input, which is fed by the drum track output.
IN THE STUDIO, YOU CAN DO MORE
than have guitar follow the drums—you
can lock them together so they’re tighter
than Christina Hendricks in spandex. The
secret: Gating and sidechaining.
The gate part is easy; you probably
know what a noise gate it. Now imagine
it not triggered by your guitar, but by a
drum part—the gate opens when a drum
hits, then closes back down again. Hardware
noise gates have key inputs that
allow triggering the gate with external
sounds. For recording with a DAW, some
gate plug-ins have sidechain inputs that
accept outputs from other tracks—like
Figure 1 shows how you’d set up gating.
This example uses Cakewalk Sonar, but
most programs work similarly.
1. Create a track that provides the
rhythmic reference (drums, percussion,
even bass) for the gate. This can be a copy
of an existing track.
2. Record the guitar part you want to
gate into a separate track.
3. Insert a gate processor plug-in with
a sidechain input into the guitar track.
When you insert a plug-in that does
sidechaining, the sidechain input shows
up as an available output for other tracks.
4. Assign the drum track output to
the sidechain input. Now the drums will
gate the guitar.
Figure 2: A typical noise gate plug-in.
Next up: Adjusting the gate parameters
(Figure 2) for the desired effect.
Input or Threshold. This sets how
high the drum level needs to be to trigger
Depth or Reduction. Determines
how low the volume goes when the gate’s
closed. Set to maximum if you want the
guitar to drop out completely during gaps
in the drumming.
Release. Adjusts the gate’s decay time
to go from open to closed. A short release
gives a very percussive sound. Lengthening
it gives more sustain.
Hold. Holds the gate open for a fixed
amount of time, even if the drum sound
goes below the threshold during that time.
Attack. Sets how long it takes for the
gate to go from closed to open. You’ll
usually set this to around 5-10ms.
Filters. Some gates have filters for the
sidechain input. For example, roll off the
highs and boost the bass, and the gate
opens only when the kick hits.
TAKE IT FURTHER...
Why stop there? Have the gated signal
trigger an auto-wah, then copy the original
guitar track and layer it with the gated
one. In the online examples, you’ll hear
a power chord gated with a really tight
release, another example with a longer
release time, and a third example where
the gated signal goes through reverb followed
by auto-wah—and it’s layered with
the original guitar part, too. Cool!