11 essential gating tips

From big bursting drums to punchy bass

Back in the days of analogue, gates were essential for getting rid of unwanted noise. In the digital era, gating is still useful, but in different ways. MusicRadar offers some practical and creative suggestions…

1. Apply a gate to an unruly bassline and feed your kick drum channel into the gate’s sidechain input. This will ensure your bass notes and kicks trigger simultaneously for a punchy, tight, clubby sound. And with slower attack times, you can delay the sound of the bass for a realistic live sound (people generally play a little behind the drums).

2. The signal path of your effects is vital, and gates should normally go upfront. For example, if you place EQ before a gate, any subsequent EQ changes will alter the level and disrupt the gate’s activation. And as a compressor dynamically alters the signal, it's bound to complicate the setup of your gate settings.

3. Despite what we've just said, have a go at applying a gate after any heavily delayed sound with a fast attack and use it to accentuate each of the individual hits. With the gain reduction setting fixed higher than usual, you can create a really cool volume pumping effect each time a delay sounds. Just use the attack and release controls to hone the pumping and adapt to taste…

4. Just as with compressors, if you’re gating a stereo signal, be sure that stereo link is switched on. This ensures that any dynamic changes applied to one side of the stereo split will be applied to the other – vital if your source material has a left or right bias.

5. You needn’t just sidechain elements of songs – why not whole tracks? Sure, you can always chop up sections of a track, but nothing beats bashing out a pattern on your MIDI keyboard and having it open the gate applied to your whole track. Just ask Mylo!

“The signal path of your effects is vital, and gates should normally go upfront.”

6. For an authentic 80s gated reverb sound, record some drums in a concrete stairwell or put them through a phat reverb patch. Then apply a gate with a high threshold and fast attack and release times. You can then extend the hold parameter, allowing through a burst of big sound.

7. If you’re layering a bunch of performances, bring them together and add punch by applying a gate to each and then supplying their sidechains with the audio from the best take.

8. Gating can have an extremely strong (and useful) effect on a signal, but also a destructive one, so if you do think you need to apply it to a multitrack recording session (to eliminate unwanted hiss or hum, for example) it’s usually better to get the recording down dry first and then apply gating at the mixing stage, where the effects can always be discarded.

9. You can fatten up kicks by adding a sine wave or booming 808 kick sound, but the envelopes are usually just messy, so use a gate on each additional sine wave or low kick sample to be layered, and trigger their sidechains with the original kick. Just make sure you have fast attack times in place so that the kick layers punch in nice and quickly.

10. You can create a more punchy sound on some percussion and bass notes by placing the threshold slightly higher than it needs be to remove noise and setting your attack time as fast as it goes. The gate will not open until the high threshold is reached, and when it is, the sound will explode through the gate.

11. Start out with fast attack and release settings so that it’s clear what's happening to the signal. Then adjust the threshold until you find the approximate level – ie, the point at which the sound you want comes through, but the sound you don’t doesn’t. From here you can fine-tune the other settings.

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