Dubspot’s Rory PQ explains how to route audio and sidechain with third-party plugins in Ableton Live.
Ableton Live 9 offers built-in sidechain controls with integrated routing choosers for Compressor, Glue Compressor Auto Filter, Multiband Dynamics, and Gate, as well as various Max4Live devices. This helpful feature allows you to select another available track as a sidechain source from within the device itself. Having the option to quickly route an audio signal input to trigger parameters within a plugin is extremely useful. For example, using Live’s Compressor to sidechain compress a bass part using the signal routed from a kick track to enhance the relationship between the two is a very common use of this feature.
However, third-party plugins used within Ableton Live do not currently provide a built-in chooser to select an external sidechain input source and requires a bit more manual configuring to route audio. This limitation is partly due to the VST technology developed by Steinberg in 1996 which allows the integration of virtual effect processors and instruments into your digital audio environment. However, in 2008 Steinberg released VST3 which provides several new features, capabilities, and improvements. Among the many new enhancements is improved external sidechain support and the ability to route audio within a plugin natively. This improvement is great news, but unfortunately, Ableton Live 9 does not currently support VST3. Therefore, in the meantime, we have to manually create a way to route audio to effects and instruments.
In this tutorial, we will explain how to route audio into third-party plugins in Ableton Live.
Sidechaining with Third-Party Plugins
Sidechaining with third-party plugins that have external sidechain input features can be easily achieved in Ableton Live with internal Track Routing using a tracks mixer In/Out Section in either the Arrangement or Session View. The downside of this approach is that you will need to create a new audio source track for every third-party plugin you wish to sidechain from.
For this example, we will use FabFilter’s Pro-C compressor placed on a bass MIDI Track, a kick MIDI Track used as the source for the sidechain signal, and an additional sidechain Audio Track which is used to route the audio signal from the kick track to Pro-C. Let’s get started!
- Route the sidechain source signal from the kick track to the dedicated sidechain track by selecting the kick track from the ‘Audio From’ chooser in the sidechain track’s I/O Section.
- Send the source signal from the sidechain track to a third-party plugin by selecting the track with the loaded plugin from the top ‘Audio To’ chooser in the sidechain track’s I/O Section, which is the bass track in this example. Then from the bottom ‘Audio To’ chooser, select the third-party plugin, which is Pro-C in this example.
- From the dedicated sidechain track, set the Monitoring to ‘In’ so that it receives the source signal from the kick track.
Note: In the example above, you will not hear the signal from the sidechain track because the audio is only being routed to the third-party plugin and is no longer being sent to the Master output.
This approach may seem like a tedious process, but until Ableton Live supports VST3, this is our best working option. If you wish to set up additional sidechain tracks to route audio to other third-party plugins then simply duplicate the original sidechain track and select the corresponding outputs from the ‘Audio To’ choosers. You can even group all the tracks to preserve screen real estate.
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