Fighting frequencies and a 29 band sidechain compressor

Fighting frequencies and a 29 band sidechain compressor

One of the most frustrating subjects for someone who is new to mixing music (or even intermediate), is how to deal with fighting frequencies. Fighting frequencies occur when you have 2 or more parts in a song fighting for the same frequency range. This causes one or both or those parts to lose their clarity, punch and impact. Some common examples are Kick drum and Bass, Guitars and vocals but conflict can happen pretty much with anything. Without properly addressing the problem you aren’t likely to end up with a professional sounding mixdown.

When you run into this issue you’ve only got a few choices:

1. Ditch one of the parts

2. Find the most important frequencies of each of the fighting instruments and attenuate the eq on the other instrument. For example, you may have guitars that really shine at  2.5khz and a Vocal that really needs the 1.5-2khz range to sound clean and clear. In this case you would lower the guitar EQ at  2.5khz and lower the guitar at around 2.5khz. Since these frequencies are being filled by other instruments, they most likely won’t be missed.

3. Another trick is to use a sidechain compressor. A sidechain compressor for example will lower the overall volume of the guitar when the Vocals come in and ramp the volume back up when there aren’t vocals.

This can be effective but runs the risk of becoming noticeable in an unpleasant way. In electronic music, that pumping sound is very common and can really bring a dull track to life if used intelligently but in other styles, you don’t want it to be noticable.

Basically the biggest issue with sidechain compression is that it pushes the overall volume down instead of just the clashing frequencies. Too much sidechain and you push away an important instrument and risk creating that pumping sound. Not enough sidechain compression and you don’t affect the instrument enough to correct your fighting frequency issues.

I wanted to be able to have complete control over the exact frequency range I wanted to sidechain. This would leave all the EQ’s that compliment the song alone and make the sidechain effect much more transparent.

As an experiment, I created a type of parametric sidechain EQ.  I basically found the EQ’s on a hardware parametric EQ and mimicked that ending up with 29 bands. Each band would have it’s own sidechain compressor available. This gave me the ability to sidechain more than one frequency from more than one instrument.

So far, in testing this experimental effect out, it didn’t hog as much cpu as expected. The main reason for this is that only the compressors that get used are active, all the others remain off.

Below I have a video dealing with using EQ to work out fighting frequencies and a 2nd video showing my 29 band sidechain compressor in use. I’m not sure how practical this will end up being, but it’ll be fun testing the results in different projects. If you want to try it, I’ll have a link to download it.

target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Ableton Spectrum and Fighting Frequencies

target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>29 Band Sidechain compressor Vid

29 Band Sidechain FX rack

Happy Music Making,



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5 Responses to “Fighting frequencies and a 29 band sidechain compressor”

  1. February 13th, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Bryce says:

    Amazing Idea man, was only talking to a mate about this the other day, We come up with an idea of (odd and even number frequencies) for each instrument, but it sounded next to impossible to pull off and even if i did how practical would it be…

    But this is really cool man cant wait to try it out!

    Good work!

  2. December 14th, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Marx says:

    Nice tutorial, thank you! Can you please make an tutorial about how to make multiband sidechain that has different settings (attack, release)for different frequencies?

  3. March 21st, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Rolando says:

    Great idea! .. never came up with the idea to build a side chain with 29 bands

  4. April 6th, 2012 at 12:08 am

    audiomunky says:

    good tuts

  5. December 12th, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Layering Sounds - The Basics To Writing Your Own Music | Music Software Training and Ableton Tutorial Videos says:

    […] If there’s a synthesizer and/or string section in your mix, you’ll most likely want to make that the next instrument in your hierarchy. Again, the amount of reverb you apply to the strings will help determine if they blend into the background or play a bigger role in your song. Make sure they sit on a frequency separate from the vocals, though, as the two tracks can easily fight each other for dominance. (More here on Fighting Frequencies) […]

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