If Resident Advisor did an end of year Top 100 production questions asked, its a fairly safe bet that, How to Create the Perfect Kick Drum, would probably clinch the number 1 spot. To some readers this question maybe as frustrating as hearing a professional footballer describe their teams performance with the same monosyllabic cliches week after week. However whilst a footballer can get away with a limited range of adjectives, a producer cannot get away with a flimsy kick drum. So how to make you kick thump harder than a disgruntled english football fan?
As producers ourselves we have read & watched numerous tutorials on layering, compression, parallel compression, equalisation etc etc, however often times our kicks have still left us disappointed. It wasnt until we started to explore and understand frequency ranges and the differing properties of those ranges that things started to really click into place. Its all well and good having you eyes on the prize and layering your kicks like a prized Pavlova, but without understanding the fundamentals of the frequency spectrum your kick may never be as tasty as you were hoping for. So before we get started a little introductory science…
[Sub Bass: 20Hz – 60Hz] Sub Bass is felt more than heard and depending on the genre you are making a decision has to be made on whether the kick or the bassline will occupy this region. If its the kick a good starting point is a standard 808 kick or using a pure sine wave for this layer.
[Bass: 60Hz – 250Hz] In regards to your Kick Drum this is perhaps the key frequency range as the fundamental frequency, or note, of the kick drum will be found here. Like any other instrument a kick will have a root note or a fundamental frequency followed by additional harmonics and this is where the debate over tuning your kick comes in. Generally speaking a kick drum is considered to be an unpitched percussion instrument, however like any sound its possible for it to have a clearly audible tone which may clash harmonically with the rest of your music. What you are mostly looking for is the kick to provide rhythm not necessarily tone, therefore if your ear is picking up some sort of clash try tweaking the tuning. Links to tuning in Ableton and Logic. Tuning aside we know need to consider some other key frequencies.
[60Hz-100Hz] – Thud & Punch
[200Hz-400Hz] – Mud/Boominess & Warmth.
[1.5kHz-6kHz] – Beater snap tends to sit in this region and needs to be carefully considered to ensure your kick still cuts through the mix on smaller speakers or laptops, which tend to shelve off anything below 80Hz.
[6kHz-10kHz] – Clarity & Brightness. Anything above 10kHz tends to be irrelevant, but dont take our word for it, use your ears and EQ accordingly.
Ok thats enough science and reading. Below we have selected three video tutorials which should take what you already know and what you’ve learned above and apply it practically. All three videos contain relevant knowledge regardless of the DAW you are using.
Tutorial 1 (Logic) – How To Layer a Kick Drum
Tutorial 2 – Layering A Kick Drum (Battery 4)
Tutorial 3 (Ableton) – Designing Layered Kick & Bass
So there we go, hopefully this article has given you a good starting point when it comes to producing the ‘Perfect Kick Drum’. However there is much to learn, so keeping reading, experimenting and above all keep patient.
Related Reading & Video Tutorials
Interactive Frequency Chart: [Click Here]
How To Balance Kick & Bass [Future Music Magazine]
Layering with a Sine Wave [Music Tutsplus]
How To Craft The Perfect Bottom End [Sound on Sound]
A Guide To Effective EQ [Sound on Sound]
Low End Theory: EQing Kicks & Bass [Resident Advisor]