Tips & Tutorials | July 21, 2014
If you’ve ever turned the music up loud and felt the kick drum pounding, or experienced the thumping “chest-pressure” at a live show, you know how important the kick drum is to music. In fact, many people think of the kick drum as the heartbeat of music, since it often holds down the groove.
When designed and engineered well, the kick drum can be one of the most energetic and exciting elements of a song. Producers and engineers spend lots of time and effort perfecting their kick drums to achieve the right amount of presence, punch, tone and chest pressure. Some producers, such as Dr. Luke, are famous for their driving rhythms charged by powerful, booming kicks. Their kick drums are punchy and fill the frequency spectrum, yet do not steal attention from the most important parts such as vocals.
One of the main challenges when creating a kick drum is achieving a complex, interesting sound while retaining a clean low end—an effective kick is complex and precise, not muddy. Keeping the low end clean will avoid the phasing issues that lead to a loss of low-frequency content.
The key to creating powerful, complex, yet clean kick drum sounds is layering together sounds that each command a different section of the frequency spectrum. This allows you to control the frequency content and amplitude changes over time for each layer. Producers will often synthesize the lowest-frequency content of a kick, and layer it with sampled higher-frequency information to fill out the tone. By dividing the different frequency content into layers, you get very detailed control of how the low boom, mid-punch, and high snap each behave.
Some beat-making software tools—such as iZotope’s BreakTweaker—feature synthesis engines that allow you to create sounds from scratch rather than just layering premade samples. Let’s take a look at how BreakTweaker can create a kick drum sound using three instances of the Synth Generator and one instance of the Sample Generator. In the following tutorial, we’ll create the layers one by one, as follows:
Since BreakTweaker can support three layers per track, two tracks will be needed.
As with any kind of sound design, post processing can help shape and color the sound. In this example, an analog-style high-shelf EQ, harmonic excitation and dynamics processing have been used.
Multiband transient shaping is an extremely powerful tool and can be invaluable when creating percussion sounds. In the above image, the multiband transient shaper in Alloy 2 is used to decrease the sustain amplitude in both bands while simultaneously increasing the attack amplitude in the higher band.
The result is a very punchy kick sound with plenty of snap that will allow it to cut through the mix. It’s harmonically rich and full bodied, yet focused and precise—equally at home in an electronic dance track or a chart-topping pop song.
These drums were designed in BreakTweaker’s drum synthesis engine. Try BreakTweaker for yourself by downloading a 10-day free trial and take your drum sounds to a higher level.