Ableton Live Tutorial: Sidechain Frequencies with Max for Live Envelope Follower

Dubspot contributor Josh Spoon explains how to sidechain frequencies in Ableton Live by using the Max for Live Envelope Follower device. 

Many people love the rhythmic pulse of sidechaining a pad or vocal to a kick drum. Though, sometimes you may not want to sidechain or duck the whole sound, but instead you want to sidechain certain frequencies that get in the way. In this tutorial I will show you how to sidechain specific frequencies and create rhythmic equalization.

You will need Ableton Live 9 Suite and Max for Live Essentials to complete this tutorial.
I have provided a starter pack for you. You can download it here.

When you open the Dubspot-Sidechain-Freq-Tutorial.als file you will see two MIDI tracks with a kick and a bass.

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Kick-EQ

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Bass Let’s play both clips.

If you select the Kick track and look at the Spectrum you will see that a majority of the kick’s energy is between  50 – 200hz (hertz).

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Kick-EQ

Now let’s look at the Bass track. Looking at the Spectrum on the rebuilt Live 9 EQ, you see the Bass takes up a lot of the frequency spectrum including a lot of the low end.

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Bass-EQ

Traditionally to keep the Bass from getting in the way of the kick we would sidechain the bass so when the kick hits the volume of the Bass goes down as a whole. Using the Max for Live Envelope Follower to sidechain you can preserve the volume of the frequencies that do not compete with the kick drum.

First thing we need to do is navigate to the Max For Live category in the browser and type “Envelope Follower”

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Category

Then drag “Envelope Follower.amxd” to your Kick track and you will see that the Envelope Follower is registering the amplitude of the kick.

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-EF-View

Now let’s go back to our Bass to set up the the EQ. Let’s select Filter 1 on the EQ and change the “Freq” to 120hz and the Q (Resonance) at 0.71. This will help the EQ of the bass duck where most of the kick’s power is located.

Listen to the clips again. Begin to move the “Gain” of Filter 1 between 0db and -15db simulating a ducking effect and listen for how the sound of the kick and bass are changing. It’s subtle but subtle is the difference between a good low end and a great low end.

Next let’s make an Audio Effects Rack, it will give us greater control over the frequency ducking we are creating. See my other article, 4 Reasons To Build Your Own Ableton Live Racks! Dynamic Controller Integration and More to learn more about the power of racks.

Right click on the Bass EQ and select “Group”

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Sidechain-Bass-Group

We will then right click Filter 1′s gain and select “Map to Macro 1″

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Sidechain-Bass-Rack-Mapping

To get greater control over the the ducking of the Bass set the Min to 0db and the Max to -15db to the newly auto-named “1 Gain A”.

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Sidechain-Bass-Rack-Macro

Click on the Kick track and select “Map” the Envelope Follower.

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-EF-Mapping

We will then select the Bass track and then click the “1 Gain A” on the rack to map the Envelope Follower from the Kick to the EQ gain of the Filter. You will know it worked if the 1 Gain A is grayed out.

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Sidechain-Bass-Rack-MappedLet’s listen to how the bass is being affected.

If you want the effect to be more present you can increase the gain of the Envelope Follower. Listen for some of the power of the bass dipping as the rest of the frequencies stays as the kick hits. This will he heard more clearly with headphones or on a sound system with good bass response.

Here is the track with the Envelope Follower at +10db

Ableton-Live-Envelope-Follower-Dubspot-Sidechain-Kick-Gain-10db

Here is the frequency ducking at 1k. You can feel the pumping of the Bass and the thump of the kick a little more.

This technique is great for mixing and as an effect because you get more control then a compressor. Experiment with the other parameters like Rise, Fall and Delay on the Envelope Follower as well as the frequency and Q of 1 Gain A to hear the rhythmic effects of ducking different frequencies.

In the Live Pack I’m including an extra kick track with two Envelope Followers and a rack with two frequencies to sidechain at two frequency points. Download the Live Pack here. You don’t have to just sidechain sounds to Kicks; you can sidechain any sound to another sound. The options to creating unique tones with this technique are limitless. I hope this gives you a new tool to create new sonic textures to aid you in your productions.


Dubspot blogger Josh Spoon is an Ableton Live veteran, blogger, drummer, music producer and live performer. Josh has a residency with the eclectic Los Angeles electronic music collective Space Circus,performing every first Friday of the month, and just released his first concept EP of grooving low-end originals entitled Man on Mars.


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