One of the critical elements of electronic music is the Kick drum.
Most modern electronic music typically has a 4-on-Floor vibe to it. This is true for Electro-House, Techno, Trance and many more EDM genres. So many different styles of electronics use this ingredient.
From tr-808 drum machines to 909’s the boom-boom-boom-boom backbone electronic music is what gets people moving and on the dance floor.
This is probably the single-most popular amateur question.
Is it as simple as programming four notes into a sequencer or recording it to get that same bombastic professional quality to it? I don’t think so.
A lot of professionally mixed electronic music heavily rely on a keen sense of aesthetics, mixing engineers, good ear judgement, layering and effects varying from EQ to Compression and other subtle effects.
Today we’ll take a look at my specifications for my compression in a typical club track. Plus some tips and general guidelines in getting a well chiseled Kick drum in you mix.
A properly chiseled kick drum doesn’t fall out of the air, it’s not an accident. It requires context of other things happening in the track, you should know the aspects of frequencies you want to use and what pockets are available on the Kickdrum sounds you are using.
When I was starting out, I had any idea of mixing tools or anything. I slowly learned it intuitively, while simply working things myself.
Consider compression as a persons hand, let’s call him Jimmy. He’s changing the volume knobs in the stereo of a car.
Gain is how loud the knob goes,
Threshold is at what point he’ll activate it,
Ratio is how hard Jimmy will affect it,
Attack is how fast/slow the quickness he does it,
Release is how fast/slow he gets off.
Type is the style, or how obnoxiously he will do it all (heh)
I typically have my levels set as so:
As a guideline, I usually have the attack ms roughly around the BPM, in this case 128 BPM. Change to desired punchiness. The release is roughly double the ms of Attack. Adjust to taste.
Practice, play with the attack/release, ratios and threshold to understand what is going on with the sound.
Sometimes a kick is pre-designed, works well and doesn’t need compression. It may need only layering and affecting it with Equalizer.
Don’t layer more than one sub frequency for a kick, it can cause inconsistencies and collide the overall mix of your track.
The way you want to layer is by having a lower frequency a mid/high frequency you believe can work together, where they don’t clash in terms of how they sound. There should be a harmonic consistency.
You can tell this from examining a spectrum diagram, or if your ears are sharp, align them until they sound in unison, sounding like one kick.
Align frequencies that harmonic, meaning they be an octave higher or available in a frequency pocket aids in determining and examining the overall context of the kicks use.
Equalizing: Divide And Conquer!
Here is a quick run down when I think about mixing a kick.
I typically differentiate between sub-low, low, mids and high.
If there clashing subwoofer kicks use some shelving or high pass filter and roll off below 80-100hz.
As you can see, a kick has many unsuspecting frequencies that can help or hind you track. It is good check your kick as a reference on it’s own, then with the accompaniment. This is just kick frequency, these are the general pockets of the frequencies. (I talk about SPAN here)
Sub-Low is typically under 60hz it is usually on felt through the subwoofer. A lot of kicks seem to punch at around 50hz. The main reason being, the harmonic has been typically associated with kicks in dance music, so the peak of the kick is at 50hz, 100hz etc. If you can synchronize the kick harmonics it will sound great.
Low is anywhere from 100 to 300hz. This is the thump, turning this up without the subwoofer will make the kick having a good bump.
Mids 500-5000 hz, turning this on will give it more presence in the mix, especially for lackluster stereo systems. Lower around 500hz to remove desired muddiness from a track. Around 3-8khz it’s where you will find the ‘click’ of the thump. It will come alive on smaller stereo systems if this manipulated. Mids are typically the range where so many instruments occur. Piano, synths, strings.
For example, if you are hearing it through laptop speakers, the kick will come through the mix. If it doesn’t smack through laptop speakers, you can increase the gain in this range.
High above 10 000 hz. Above this frequency range can do a lot with the aesthics of the kick. Lower it and it will sound dark and muddle. You can have a brightness depending on the manner in which the kick was created.
Creating the Kick in context with the music and song, is just much an art as sculpting. What you are doing is sculpting out elements, brightening elements. It is all a matter of moving, removing and gaining.
Sweep around using different EQ parameters. Shelving, filters, High Pass, Low Pass.
Practice Combining Kicks
I’ve seen people layer over 8 kicks, to my confusion. This can be potentially damaging to the overall mix. Unless you want the kick to sound like noise, rather than staying on certain frequencies it can be done.
What you want to do is to keep the kick under a couple of frequency pockets, that way, when other sounds unfold, they can fit like puzzle pieces.
Practicing a combination of kicks, that work well with one another is a vital part to creating a tight mix and great kick drum.
If you a have a jam you are really interested analyzing it’s kick, do so. If you like the way it pumps and engages in overall context of the track.
If you believe it can parallel to a track you are making. Take a look at it. Run it under a microscope and analyze the frequency. I found I learn a lot from playing a whole song on a spectrum analyzer. Each track has it’s own characteristics and mix that works differently
Do you have any reference tips or techniques when you are combining kicks or tightening up your mix. Share in the comments!
Here is a good video you can use as reference for mixing the sub bass and to help you on your overall mix. There’s a little bit of sound theory in it as well. I found it very helpful.
Check out my latest electronica releases on bandcamp:
Dark Techno, IDM/Synthpop, Ambient, Industrial