The BEST tips, techniques, and production secrets on the web

The BEST tips, techniques, and production secrets on the web
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to Get That BIG Kick!

Hello all! I apologize for my long absence --- have been quite busy lately with both my music and my novel, not to mention a long-overdo paint job for my bedroom. That's right, we are talking three walls white, one bright turquoise, how about that, eh? I wake up every morning feeling like I'm staying in a Caribbean cabana, minus the pretty island girls running around with grass skirts and pina coladas. All in due time though, all in due time.

Let's get right down to business, shall we? I'd like to use this article to share some of my most prized secrets --- some of the most esteemed and vital bits of information I have uncovered in my journey as a producer --- to creating the almighty "giant kick drum." You know the kind of kick I am referring to. And if for whatever reason you do not, go to and listen to the current #1 track (Martin Garrix - "Animals"). Even crazy Russian Youtube prankster Vitalyzdtv gave a shoutout to the epicness of this track. If Vitaly says it's good, it's probably good. He is a self-proclaimed Nutella connoisseur, and apparently an epic kick drum enthusiast as well. You can trust Vitaly.

Time to get that sound.

Time to kick society in the face with a... kick! Here we go...

To start off, let's refresh our memories as to where the most essential frequencies of a kick drum fall in the overall frequency spectrum. The sub frequencies of a kick drum lie in the 46Hz - 100Hz range while the higher, snappier "beater" frequencies that help a kick cut through the mix can usually be adhered to with a high shelf boost of about +2 or +3 dB at 2kHz and up. (See my article "The Correct Way to Choose Drum and Percussion Samples" for more info on layering kick samples).

Assuming that you already have nice, satisfying, thick kick drum in the works (whether layered or a single sample), I will now offer you some tips as to how to make it as massive as possible. First and foremost, if you have not yet sidechained your basses and pads to your kick, put down your Fun Dip and do it. Sidechaining is essentially what some producers traditionally call "ducking," in that the bass or instrument track that is sidechained with the kick will "duck" in volume each time the kick drum sounds. (I will explain in extensive detail how to sidechain in a future article.) This will ultimately free up the low-end frequencies that your bass tracks inhabit during each of the kick hits, thus allowing the deeper components of the kick drum sound to cut through the mix. It could almost be looked at as "pushing aside" the other instruments in your mix to allow your kick to punch through to the surface and breathe.

Never overlook the power of a simple sub frequency pulse beneath your kick drum samples. You can achieve this via NI Massive or just about any other synth software at your disposal that allows you to create a simple sine wave with very fast attack and release. Try experimenting with mimicking the sound of a kick drum by adjusting the release time, pitch, attack, and other envelope parameters until you get a nice heavy sub bass "boom". For example, to mimic the slow "booooom, booooom" (apologies for my inability to think of a more effective way to describe it) of the "Animals" kick drum, your sine wave pulse should have a quick attack with a slower release. Try increasing the sustain time as well to achieve the drawn out resonance. Depending on the nature of your software, either the sustain or release can offer you the optimal result of a long, powerful sub kick. The key is to know your software and experiment; your ears are your best weapon. As far as building a sub kick layer from Massive (or other softsynth), it is important to remember that the sound you are building is intended to blend with your main kick sample(s) rather than stand out as the prominent component of your kick. That said, it may not sound like anything special when you trial it separately, but depending on where the frequencies fall (16Hz to about 25Hz is ideal) it will certainly add a surprisingly thick, deep "thump" to your kick drum sound when layered over your other kick samples. Of course, the proper EQ and compression treatment for a sub kick would be applicable for your sine wave pulse layer, i.e. a low pass filter and beefy compression. Word of warning: this method is to be used very conservatively. In other words, it won't take much volume to get the self-made sub kick to serve it's purpose. Make sure it is low enough in the mix so that you don't necessarily "hear" it, but rather "feel" it.

One seemingly simple yet extremely critical concept to consider when striving for a gigantic kick drum is to keep an uncluttered mix. Don't overdo the instrument tracks if you want your kick to be the focal point of your beat. This does not have to be considered for the entire song, however, but when you are attempting to create a track that features a passage where the pulse of the kick drum dominates the entire mix (in place of a bassline perhaps, even), you want to have a clean slate to lay down your beat. To reference "Animals" once again, let us examine the passage where his monster kick drops. You have only two components occurring musically at this moment in the song: a.) the insanely massive kick drum; b.) a minimalistic percussive stab melody to accompany it. That's it. Two things. Think about the implications of this. With only two sounds, Martin Garrix has crafted a drop that pushed his track to the top of the Beatport charts. The key is to be tasteful and to have a plan as far as what you wish to accomplish with your drop. For him, he chose to throw all crazy growl bass Skrillex-ey whatever sounds out the window, settling instead for a minimal house club-thumping kick pulse doing nothing more than hitting the downbeats. That is all there is to the bass component of this drop. There is no bassline whatsoever in the drop, just his huge kick. This is what I mean by focusing on your "plan" for the drop, and for paying attention to how your mix should not be overflowing with instrument tracks. When you are shooting for a massive kick, keep your mix simple. I will say this again because I cannot stress it enough as far as huge kick drums are concerned. When you are shooting for a massive kick, keep your mix simple.

Always make sure to use your monitors with your subwoofer when producing kicks, as well as any bass or sub-frequency sounds for that matter. This may sound like common sense but you would be surprised at how many novice producers underestimate the importance of having a subwoofer in your arsenal, settling instead for standalone computer speakers or headphones. Though each serve their purpose, producing a giant kick drum is best adhered to when done through your monitors with your subwoofer turned up.

So there you have it. It may take rocket science to put a man on the moon, but getting a massive ass-obliterating kick drum is thankfully much easier. The most critical elements come down to paying attention to the quality of your samples, making sure your mix is not over-cluttered, a generous dose of sidechaining, and perhaps a subtle sine wave pulse mirroring your kick samples for added sub frequencies. Utilize these concepts when crafting your next kick drum and you might just be the one who "kicks" Martin Garrix out of the #1 position on Beatport!

And who knows, if you are lucky enough you might even get a shout-out from Vitalyzdtv!

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