Technique of the Week: Using Sidechain Compression to Duck a Vocal Delay

Using sidechain compression to duck a vocal delay is a popular technique in music production. Here, Alex Holmes gives us a quick guide to how it’s done…

Using Sidechain Compression to Duck a Vocal Delay

Adding delay to a vocal can really bring it to life, giving it a more professional sounding edge and helping it sit better in the mix. However, to get the best results, you’ll want to make sure the delayed version isn’t cluttering your main vocal track.


The best way to do this is to use a delay effect on a bus send, and carefully draw in automation bumps for the words or syllables that have some space after them for the delay to echo out. This can, however, be quite time consuming and life is short!

An alternative technique is to use a compressor on your bus after the delay plug-in, with the sidechain input set to trigger when the vocal plays. This way, your main vocal is clear as the delay is ducked, but then the delay version swells up to fill the space when the vocal isn’t playing.

If you want to get really crafty, you could duplicate the vocal on a track with no audible output, pull it forward in time a little (maybe a quarter note), and then use that as a sidechain input to a compressor ahead of your delay effect. Now the signal feeding the delay is a quarter note burst of vocal at the end of each phrase. Be sure to play around with the threshold and release times to get the best results.