Processing Kick Drums for House, Techno, Tech House, and other styles of EDM
For a majority of EDM tracks, the Kick drum is a dominating instrument, it holds the pace and drives the track on the dance floor, This is especially true for genres like House, Techno, and Tech House.
The aim of this tutorial is to highlight the desirable characteristics of a Kick drum, with ideas on where to source a Kick drum, popular Kick drum rhythmic patterns, how to handle a kick drum in the mix, and ways to control the dynamic range and frequency information of the sound.
Sourcing and auditioning Kick Drum Sounds
Sourcing an appropriate Kick drum sample to fit your track is the simplest way to build a great foundation. Depending on the DAW or sampler you use, there are many ways to quickly audition multiple kick drums against the other instruments in your track,
The following videos will give you ideas on how to approach this using an Ableton Drum Rack to add multiple samples. This demonstration is done with a hi-hat but the technique is exactly the same for a Kick Drum.
Kick Drum frequencies for mixing
Not every kick is the same, however, typically you will find the lowest frequency to be between 50hz to 80hz. This frequency range gives you earth-shaking power which can be very desirable especially when listening to the kick drum without any other instruments in the mix. The subfrequencies can also cause lots of problems as they are difficult to monitor in less than perfect listening environment and will take up the range where you would normally include a bass instrument. Instruments fighting for sub-frequencies will cause uncontrolled volume dynamics, a compressor will struggle to tame this and your loudspeaker will struggle to replicate the information you are trying to output.
A great way to understand this is by comparing a waveform with the way your speaker cone vibrates, the highs and lows of the waveform corresponding to the vibration of the speaker cone.. A smooth and simple waveform makes it easier for a large speaker cone to push in and out to replicate the sound. If you ask the speaker cone to vibrate at many different speeds at the same time, it will struggle and won't behave as you intended it to, you won’t get clarity, power, and warm in the bass and sub which is extremely important when you're trying to achieve the most professional sound possible.
Volume Envelope for the Sub Frequencies
As I’ve already mentioned the low sub-frequencies can be problematic to a compressor and other audio equipment if it has to deal with sudden volume changes, you will want to the tail to fade out with a volume ramp-up for the attack otherwise you experience Clicks with your equipment and compressors with sudden sub volume spikes. Although the sub does add to the punch of the Kick, the attack is handled better by the high-frequency range. The sub is a layer the other frequencies will sit on.
The Low Mid Punch
These are the frequencies that hit you in the chest, the attack and decay are faster than the sub-frequencies and can be heard on smaller speakers and smaller headphones so these frequencies are much easier to work with and monitor. These frequencies can also share the same frequencies as your bass instruments so making decisions based on other instruments sharing the same frequency band such as which instrument needs this frequency band more or if the kick or bass still translates desirable information outside of this frequency band and if the bass and kick are taking the same space in time.
Volume Envelope for low Mid Punch Frequencies
The low mid or Kick punch is typically found between 100Hz to 200Hz and has a lightly faster attack and decay than the sub but still not the transient peak like the higher frequencies. You will find that the volume of the mid-punch will fade out before the sub leaving the sub-tail as the last audible part of the kick. Because this frequency is used as the punch then the attack will still be reasonably quick with a softer decay to create a resonance.
The High-frequency attack or click
The higher frequencies are used to help the kick cut through the mix and add presence as in tech-house, or lots of other EDM genres the kick plays a huge part of the track. The click that’s used can range massively from a closed Hi Hat sound, a very short snare, or even noise to add a snap and transient to the kick. This click sound is for the transient only and will have a very quick attack and decay time. Whatever you use, I would recommend a High Pass filter to take out any low sound so it doesn’t interfere with the sub or low Mid punch frequencies.
Adding extra harmonic content to your kick
Saturation is sometimes used to add extra harmonic content this can make a Kick sound richer or fuller but will also take up more room in the mix or distortion for a more extreme result.
For more control over the sound and characteristics of your kick drum, a number of tools or techniques are traditionally used. These techniques include layering multiple Kicks to create an individual Kick, manipulating a Kick Drum Sample using tools such as gates, compressors, saturation, and EQ, and using synthesizer and sampler tools such as Kick 2 or Punchbox.
Kick 2 and Punchbox:
Kick 2 and Punchbox are virtual drum synthesizer plugins that offer users the ability to create and customize drum sounds using synthesis and sampling technology. They provide options for generating and shaping sounds, including oscillators, filters, envelopes, and preset libraries. Both plugins offer control over pitch, dynamics, and other parameters to shape kick drum sounds.