There are numerous sample packs offering club-ready kick drums and this is by no means a bad thing. However, these might not always be suitable for your track. Sometimes it’s necessary to layer a few kicks together or bastardise a sample to make it fit for purpose, and sometimes this means creating a kick from scratch. In this article I’m going to cover what you’ll need to look for when layering kicks up, how to create a kick from scratch, sampling and resampling, EQing, compressing and the rest of the steps necessary to get the kick drum you’re looking for.
There are tools available like Nicky Romero’s Kick Synth and BazzISM vst that will allow you to create a kick from scratch. They are synthesisers that emulate electronic kick drums, giving you customisable pitch envelope settings and layering possibilities, however, there’s enough literature on them on their own websites. Firstly I’m going to look at d16 group’s Drumazon, which emulates the classic Roland TR-909. In Ableton I’ve drawn in a simple pattern with a kick drum on every quarter note.
I’m using Voxengo SPAN and s(M)exoscope by Bram.Smartelectronix.Com (both free) to visualise the kick drum. Spectral analysis is covered here, and the s(M)exoscope is like an oscilloscope, which is useful when looking at the volume of sounds. Here’s the default kick drum sound from Drumazon (you might need to disable the two INT. SYNC buttons on the top left to be able to trigger the drums via midi):
By opening up the decay we get a longer sound that allows more low-end through. This is because kick drums are typically made with a pitch envelope, starting high and ending low. Now drop the pitch knob to get a deeper sound:
I’ve added Live’s EQ8 and made some surgical adjustments. Firstly, I’ve hi-pass filtered at 35 Hz as this is below our fundamental and can eat up headroom. Secondly, I’ve added a mild boost around 45 Hz where the weight of the kick can be really felt; in addition there’s another boost at 150 Hz. Finally I’ve removed some frequencies at 250 and 500 Hz.
Now I’m going to layer the 909 sound with Live’s ‘group tool’. Select the plugin chain (including the drum machine) and hit cmd+g if you’re on a mac or ctrl+g if you’re on a PC. This will group the devices into a new plugin instrument. Click on the show/hide chain list and re-name Drumazon to 909.
Drag a Drum Rack into the space underneath the existing chain to add a new layer. Drum Rack is a great multi-sampler made for drums (as the name suggests). A great trick is adding numerous kick drums and using Live’s MIDI effect ‘Pitch’ to scroll through them, making it easier to audition them in context. I’ve dragged my collection of home-made kicks into the drum rack, starting on note C1 (this is the MIDI note we’re triggering) – there’s not quite enough room for all the samples but it’s fine for this demonstration. Be sure to add the MIDI pitch effect before the new drum rack we’ve added and not before the group, otherwise we’ll end up triggering other sounds from the Drumazon.
Press play and slowly move the MIDI pitch’s pitch knob up and you’ll hear the custom kicks being scrolled though. The result of this is being able to find a layer to add to the 909 without tediously dragging and dropping each sample. I like +11 and +28, so I’m going to duplicate the drum rack (cmd+d on Mac, ctrl+d on PC) and use the different pitch settings on each. A healthy slab of EQ, tuning and enveloping will be needed on each hit to get it sitting nicely. On the +11 kick I pulled the amplitude envelope’s sustain down to 0 and dialled in around 500ms of decay, just letting the initial impact of the sound through. I’ve also hi-passed it at 130 Hz to stop any low-end frequencies clashing with my 909. With the +28 kick drum I’ve used similar settings, this time with a slightly longer decay of 800ms and rolled off at 100 Hz. I’ve also dipped this sound by 2dB in the group’s chain.
The three sounds together sounded a bit busy so I’ve ditched the +11 kick. Some final EQ and compression on the two sounds together and it’s starting to sound good: