How to Sidechain with 3rd Party Plugins in Ableton Live

Learn how to sidechain with third-party plugins. This guide looks at two methods used to setup sidechaining with third-party plugins in Ableton Live.

Third-Party Plugins

Sidechaining with Third-Party Plugins

Ableton Live features an external sidechain source chooser for several of its native devices. You can route audio from Live’s Compressor, Glue Compressor, Auto Filter, Multiband Dynamics, Gate, Corpus, and various Max for Live devices.

However, third-party plugins used in Ableton Live do not provide a sidechain input chooser. Sidechaining with a third-party plugin requires more configuring to route audio.

Routing audio within a plugin is a feature only supported in VST3 plugins. However, Ableton Live does not currently support VST3. Meanwhile, we have to create other ways to route audio to effects and instruments.

Routing Audio to Third-Party Plugins

FabFilter Pro-MB

There are a few ways to sidechain with third-party plugins that have an external sidechain input feature. This method uses Live’s track mixer In/Out section to route audio from a trigger source to a third-party plugin.

The following guide uses FabFilter’s Pro-MB multiband compressor inserted on a sub bass track. The sidechain trigger source will be a kick track. Lastly, a sidechain audio track to route the kick signal to Pro-MB. Let’s get started!

  • Create an Audio Track with the shortcut command Cmd+T [Mac] or Ctrl+T [PC].
  • Expand the mixers In/Out section.
  • Select the sidechain trigger track as an input source from the ‘Audio From’ chooser. This example uses the kick signal as the sidechain trigger source.
  • Route the kick signal to a third-party plugin. Select the track with the loaded plugin from the top ‘Audio To’ chooser. For this example, choose the sub bass track. Next, select the third-party plugin from the bottom ‘Audio To’ chooser, which is Pro-MB in this example.
  • Set the monitoring control to ‘In’ so the track receives the kick signal.
  • The third-party plugin should be receiving the sidechain input source. Adjust the plugins controls to taste.

Note: You will not hear the sidechain track. The signal is being sent to the third-party plugin and not the Master output.

There’s also a downside to this approach. You will need to create a new audio track for every third-party plugin you want to use for sidechaining. The best way to manage the multiple tracks is to add them to a Group Track.

How to Route Audio to Multiple Sidechain Capable Plugins?

Surround Panner

With the release of Live 10, you can now route one sidechain trigger to multiple third-party plugins using the Surround Panner Max for Live device. Surround Panner allows you to route up to four separate outputs to sidechain capable plugins. To establish this routing:

  • Create an Audio Track with the shortcut command Cmd+T [Mac] or Ctrl+T [PC].
  • Load the Surround Panner device to the new Audio Track.
  • Select ‘Sends Only’ from the ‘Audio To’ chooser in the track mixer In/Out section. The signal routing will run through the Surround Panner device instead of the track mixer.
  • Set the monitoring control to ‘In’ so the track receives the kick signal.
  • Route the sidechain trigger signal to the third-party plugin from Surround Panner’s ‘Output Type’ chooser.

Note: Ignore the leftmost panning section of the Surround Panner when using this device for sidechain purposes.

Closing Tips

These two methods may seem like a tedious process. But until Live supports VST3, this is our best working option. You could also route the sidechain trigger signal to a Return Track. This setup is similar to the method outlined above.

You can set up multiple sidechain trigger tracks to route audio to other third-party plugins. Duplicate the original sidechain track and select the destination outputs from the ‘Audio To’ choosers. Also, group all the tracks to preserve screen real estate.

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