There have been countless words written about kick drum synthesis and layering kicks within Ableton and Logic (in these pages and elsewhere), so I thought I’d try and bring something new to the table.
The advantages of layering your kicks (and other drums for that matter) are well documented, but in short it allows us greater control of the duration, pitch and low-end content of our bass drums.
In the MIDI world, drum synthesisers like Nicky Romero’s Kick Synth and BazzISM vst provide a great deal of sonic accuracy, but what if we’re using audio as our source? Audio to MIDI conversion algorithms have made good progress in recent updates to Logic and Live but it’s a bit fiddly and tends to require some degree of tweaking.
Bass Kick Instinct
In a mixing class I was teaching yesterday, dealing with some drum stems from a neo-soul recording, the topic of using an oscillator to deepen your kick cropped up. Logic’s own Sub Bass plug-in and Waves Renaissance Bass are two options on the market, but for a greater deal of control I introduced them to the Test Oscillator.
This is a free-running oscillator capable of producing sine and pulse waves as well as various types of noise at whichever frequency you specify. We added this on a new software instrument track, tuned it to an octave below our kick’s fundamental and used the original kick to open a gate using sidechain analysis. Pretty simple stuff.
This is fine but there are essentially two pitfalls we can run into. The first is that the oscillator is free-running, meaning its phase is all over the shop. This can not only lead to annoying clicks and pops but it can also lead to inconsistency in the perceived volume of our sub kick. Below is a sine wave at 40 Hz opened by a sidechained gate: we can clearly see from the three instances that none of them share the same starting phase.
The second issue we run into is the test oscillator is a static pitch, and all good kick drums have an audible drop, or sweep. This what creates the snappy transient at the beginning and deeper tones at the end. Giving it some thought I figured I could use my Eurorack setup to get close to a useable kick oscillator and integrate it with my DAW of choice.