Nicky Romero Kickstart is a virtual effect available in VST and AU plugin formats for PC and Mac based host applications. The plugin was crafted by the Cableguys, in collaboration with Nicky Romero. It comes at a reasonable price of €10 ($15) and is surprisingly easy to use. Kickstart is as WYSIWYG as plugins go. What you see, is quite literally what you’ll get on the output.
Although the first look at the user interface might suggest that Kickstart is a side-chain plugin, that is not exactly correct. It is a volume automation utility, rather than an actual side-chaining device, as you don’t have to send any additional signal to the plugin’s input in order to get the desired pumping effect. Kickstart uses different volume ducking curves to achieve the effect that we typically associate with side-chain compression.
The UI is pretty straightforward. First of all, the effect has a big ‘Mix’ knob which is, of course, just another term for a Dry/Wet control. The higher the percentage, the more apparent the volume automation effect will be. Next to it, we have a choice of different volume curves, or, as the developers like to call them, hand-crafted modulation curves. In total, there are sixteen curves you can apply. Some are creative, some are relatively standard, such as the first one, which ducks the volume right at the start of the count. Obviously, this curve closely mimics the position of the kick drum in most dance music tracks and its effect on a side-chained track.
Underneath the curve display, you can monitor the waveform of the audio signal going through the plugin in real-time. The waveform display is super convenient, as you can make sure to tweak the volume automation curve according to the audio signal that is being processed. The customization can be done by choosing the preferred envelope shape and by shifting the envelope left or right. Conveniently, it is possible to make these adjustments by using the left and right arrows on the UI.
Other than that, you can set the different timing options on top of the user interface. You can choose between 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1/1, and thus determine how the volume automation relates to the host application’s tempo setting. Setting the note length to 1/8 means that the envelope is restarted every 1/8th count, whereas 1/4 means it’s applied every 1/4th count and so on.
Opening the settings tab (by pressing the gear icon) shows the different retriggering options, which make things a lot more interesting. Kickstart supports three different retrigger options. One is controlled by the note length value, and the other two are triggered via MIDI.
Option 1 – Synced
Synced is the default setting which is explained above. The envelope is simply retriggered on each count (1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1/1).
Option 2 – Retrigger
For this option, you need to open the settings tab of the plugin and create a new MIDI channel in the DAW. Let’s say you are sending MIDI on channel 3. In this case, you’ll have to select channel 3 as the MIDI input channel in Kickstart.
This way, the plugin can react to the MIDI notes you are sending in manually. Each time a MIDI note is triggered, the envelope is retriggered and will continue playing according to the time signature setting. So, if you’ve selected 1/8th, the volume automation will start when the MIDI note hits and will continue every 1/8th until another MIDI note is triggered.
Option 3 – One shot
This option is pretty much the same as the retrigger option described above. The only difference is that the volume automation will not be retriggered until another MIDI note is sent to the VST. Hence the name ‘One Shot’.
The interesting thing about this mode is that the count determines the speed of the completion of the envelope. You can compare this to the decay parameter of a side-chain compressor. The higher the decay time, the longer it takes for the volume to reach its default level. The higher the count, the quicker the envelope is completed and thus the sooner the volume resets.
Kickstart makes side-chain style pumping effects very easy to achieve, as it completely removes the need to create a separate side-chain channel and use a side-chain compressor. Instead, you can drop Kickstart on any channel you’d want to process and instantly achieve the same level of volume ducking as with a regular side-chain setup. Dropping multiple instances of Kickstart on a single channel is also very likely, as you might want to have each 1/4 bar side-chained hard (with the Mix parameter set to 100%) and each 1/8 count pumping a bit less (Mix set to around 70%).
The choice between different volume automation curves adds a lot to Kickstart’s versatility and makes it suitable for a variety of volume automation scenarios, in addition to faux side-chaining. The real-time waveform display is another great addition to the plugin’s feature list. With the asking price of just €10, Kickstart is one of the biggest bargains on today’s plugin market.
More info: Kickstart (€10 / $15)
Kickstart makes side-chain style pumping effects very easy to achieve, as it completely removes the need to create a separate side-chain channel and use a side-chain compressor. With the asking price of just €10, Kickstart is one of the biggest bargains on today's plugin market.