It’s great when you’re programming drums; you’ve got all that creative control. All those drums in their own channels. A specific drum not sounding right? Just change the sample, but what if you don’t have that option? What if you’ve recorded a live kit and, when it comes to the mix, the kick doesn’t carry enough weight? Or what if you’ve found the perfect funk break on a charity shop crate dig, but it’s just a bit too light? The Red Dog team tell you how to add thump to a kick drum and make it shake things.
In our secret Edinburgh base, we quickly threw together a drum loop using an 60’s acoustic kit in Native Instruments’ Maschine, running as a plugin inside Ableton Live. We then recorded this as a stereo audio clip in a new track, and deleted the track containing Maschine. But, disaster! We’ve changed our minds and want some more low-end to our kick! What are we to do?
The first instinct is to reach for an eq and add a bunch of gain at the bottom. EQ can only work if there is something already there though so, if there isn’t, you’ll need to add some more frequencies down at the heavy end.
Now, if you’re using a rigidly-quantized drum loop, you might just program a new track containing a kick sample that has the necessary bassy gravitas (if you do this you might want to low pass filter it or at least check for phase issues). However, in some cases it might be easier to do things another way…
How to add thump to a kick
We use a sine wave. Easy. All we have to do is create a track that has a continuous sound at our bass frequency of choice, then find a way to make it heard only when the kick hits. And, fortunately, it’s remarkably straightforward: we use a gate.
To start, we need a track that contains only our kick drum, so that hits from the other drum sounds don’t trigger our sine wave. To do this, we simply duplicate the track and add a low-pass filter, bringing the frequency down until all we can hear is the kick. It doesn’t matter if the kick sounds awful, we’re going to mute the track so it doesn’t head to the master buss anyway.
That done, the next thing is to create our sine wave. There are a number of ways to do this. If you’re using Pro Tools, you could use the signal generator plugin, in Logic you could use the test tone oscillator, or you can just use a synth plugin that offers a sine wave. We’re using Live, and we’re going to use the Analog synth to do just that.
The first thing we do is change the waveform to a sine wave, then we change the amp envelope so that the the note will sustain indefinitely. The sine wave is then triggered by creating a MIDI clip with one long note with an appropriately low frequency, possibly around the 60 Hz mark. A1 to C2 is around the place to be. While you won’t really be able to perceive much in the way of pitch when using the note in this way, you can always choose a note related to the key of the song. There is a convenient frequency reference here.
So, now when we hit play we get one long note, so we’re not quite there. The final thing to do is insert a gate plugin after the sine wave generator. We use a gate that offers an external sidechain input and set our new filtered kick audio track as the input for the sidechain. How this is done may depend on your DAW, but, in Live, we simply click the small triangle to unfold the full plugin and select the track from the dropdown list. We’ve selected the audio to be used post FX so we get that filtered note.
And you’re pretty much done. Bring the threshold down until you hear (and see!) the gate opening up when the kick hits, and mix in those trouser-flapping low frequencies to taste! And that is how to add thump to a kick drum.
In our example, we have the raw drum loop for the first two bars, then two bars with our additional low end, two raw bars, two bars with an over-the-top amount of bottom so you can really hear what’s going on, and two naked bars to finish.
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