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Sound design

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3 ways to make a kick drum

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I’m struggled to find proper kick drums for my productions. Should I make my own? If so, how?

Chris

Chris, there are two ways to get a kick drum: buy ready-to-use royalty free sample packs or make your own sounds. Here are some popular samples manufacturers if you’d go the first way: Freshly Squeezed, Function Loops, Loopmasters, Vengeance, Zenhiser.

And although there is nothing wrong with using such samples, I’d still recommend making your own sounds, at least for several reasons: it gives you an understanding of how things work, you can get unique sound tailored for your needs and each kick you’ve made boost your experience as a producer. Also, it’s cheaper, and so much fun after all.

Formally speaking, a kick drum is nothing but a Sine wave with Pitch modulation. There are three main ways to synthesize your own kick drum, and I’ll cover all of these.

Making a kick drum in audio editor

This is kind of old-school method and I don’t think anyone still use it. At the same time, it’s very simple method hence gives a clear understanding of the process. By ‘audio editor’ I don’t mean a DAW, this type of programs are different: Sound Forge and Audacity for example. I gonna use Audacity in this case.

Audacity app
Free, cross-platform

As being mentioned above, basically, kick drum is a Sine wave. So in Audacity, go to Generate → Tone, then choose Sine waveform, and set Frequency at some low volume, I would say from 30 to 60 Hertz.

We’ve got a pure Sine tone. Select second half of the audio and go to Effect → Fade Out to shape the form a bit. Now select the first few milliseconds, go to Effect → Sliding Time Scale/Pitch Shift, and play around with these parameters. Initial pitch should be always higher than destination pitch, so it goes downwards.

Pretty much, that’s it — we’ve got a low kick drum. You can make more aggressive Attack, or Transient of the sound, it’s up to tastes and needs. I don’t want to stay longer on this as I’m sure you won’t use this method, so let’s move forward.

Making a kick drum in synthesizer

NI Massive is one of my favorite synths for making a kick drum because of its flexible modulation. But this method works just fine in many other synthesizers as well.

Read also:
Recommended synths

A little remark regarding Massive. Basically, Envelope number 4 is mapped to modulate Amplitude, but the problem is even with zero amount of Attack and Release parameters, envelope still has some ramp up and ramp down (highlighted on the picture below). It’s not an issue for most type of sounds, but with kick drums, these tiny milliseconds are very important. As the result, you’ll hear these unnecessary clicks rather than pure tone:

Here is the solution. First things off, Mute amplitude modulation by right clicking at that number 4 in square — it will disable envelopes effect on amplitude. Then go to oscillator settings (“OSC” tab in the modulations section), and turn on that tiny Restart via Gate thing. It restarts the phase via Midi gate and helps to get rid of the initial click.

To deal with the click in the end, here comes another trick. Go to LFO section and change its mode to Performer. Then draw a curve that goes from zero to maximum within a short amount of time, and map this to negatively modulate Oscillator envelope. So, basically, it will just turn off the volume of our sound source before that nasty click happens. Finally, we’ve got a clean Sine wave:

That’s all been a sort of preparation. Now comes the best part — Pitch modulation, to actually get a kick drum sound. First things off, increase initial oscillator pitch up to 64, as we need to go it downwards. Then map both Envelopes 1 and 2 to modulate pitch, and turn its amount to few octaves down. Then just play around with Envelopes, Decay in most, to get kick type that you want.

Here are some variations I’ve quickly made:

Making a kick in drum synthesizer plugins

There are several synthesizers, designed specifically for the kick drum synthesis: BazzISM and Kick to name a few. This is probably the easiest and most efficient way to achieve very precise sound that fit your needs. Although, basic principles are all the same: it’s still a single Sine wave with modulation. This particular type of synthesizers is just focused on this and only one purpose.

Kick by Sonic Academy.
$40, VST/AU

These plugins are pretty straightforward, just move around a pitch, length, shape, and tweak other parameters, and here we go — a solid kick drum without the need of manual modulation mapping, like in Massive, for instance.

Kick plugin by Sonic Academy

Afterwords

These are the three ways of making kick drums, but keep in mind there are still quite a lot of things could be done for the usage in final productions: equalization, layering, compressing, and other sort of polishing.

Good luck with your kicks!

2015   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Psytrance bassline synthesis

What are some good techniques to get that deep bass sound that I hear in a lot of tracks by artists such as yourself, Lyktum and E-Clip?

Specifically how do you go about synthesizing one (also what are common synths used) and what extra processing that goes on top of the raw synth sound. Lastly do you bounce the sound to an audio file once you’re happy with it and edit it further there or do you keep it as a midi file the entire way through the track creation.

Lastly you may want to edit this out but do you teach music production over Skype?

Jack

Ah, the bassline. How many thrill in this word among music producers! Some producers seem to think they own a certain sound, but those sounds had been used since the 80s, using pretty much the same technique. Jack, I cannot speak on behalf of E-Clip or Lyktum, so I’ll tell the way how I do the bassline.

Formally speaking, the bassline is one of the simplest sounds in Psytrance music. Unlike of Dubstep bass, for instance, where you need a plenty of modulations, canonical Psytrance bass requires much less. Basically, all you need is just a few building blocks of synthesis: single oscillator, filter, and envelopes. You can use pretty much every synthesizer for this. 

Recommended synths

So, let’s take initial preset of your favorite synth. I’m using Sylenth1 (which, by the way, finally got 64-bit version support), but again, this is only a question of personal choice — you can recreate that bass in many other synths. For this demonstration purpose, I took some random kick from my samples library and placed MIDI-note of the bassline on note D1.

Sounds very basic and primitive so far, but that’s okay. The first thing I gonna do is select Saw wave shape (Sylenth1 uses Saw by default, but other synths may use Sine or other shapes in their initial presets), and drop down the pitch by one octave down. If you use more than 1 voices in the oscillator, make sure that “Retrig” option (or whatever it called) is turned on — it forces all voices to start at the exact same location on the waveform every time a note is played; it prevents voices to be out of phase.

Now I gonna apply Lowpass filter with 24dB attenuation per octave — it gives a slightly faster/sharper cutoff comparing to 12dB. Play around with cutoff frequency up to your taste. Then I gonna route filter cutoff to modulation envelopes. Now let’s take a look at ADSR. The bass sound should not have fade-in, nor fade-out — so we drop down Attack and Release parameters down to zero. Sustain would give a long “body” of the sound, which we no need here much either. So the only parameter left to play around is Decay — I would give it around 30% of the maximum value. And pretty similar settings to oscillator envelopes.

Here is the summary look of what I have done so far:

This is it — the essential foundation. Tiny details could be tweaked further up to your taste, but I satisfied so far. Skipping to one of your question ahead, — yes, I do bounce the bassline. This is also called resampling. Different DAWs requires different actions to make resampling, but the general idea is to change, to “bake” our bass from MIDI into solid WAV state. I believe, it gives more consistent sound, more predictable and aggressive velocity. Also, it may save your CPU if you experience a lack of performance.

Once a single bass note is resampled, I put that sound into Sampler, and then build a desirable bassline pattern. So it goes like this: MIDI → resampling of single note → resampled piece of sound into Sampler.

As you can see, I have three tracks here. I do recommend to keep your original MIDI bass, don’t delete it, just leave it muted or “frozen”: you might want to go back and change something in the source.

It sounds like this:

Quite nice, but need to EQ it a little bit. Usually, I remove that kind of “mud” at around 300 Herz and gently boost lower harmonics. Since I’m using the note of “D”, the harmonics will be at 73 and 147 Hz.

Psytrance bassline equalization

This is it. You can also play around with velocity, and give some “character” to bassline by adding a pinch of distortion, compressor, or any other device up to your taste.

Remember, this is not a ready-to-use recipe (although, you can use it), but rather I would like to give understanding of the process, so you could create a bass that suits your needs, with a personal touch.

I hope it helps.

Lastly, — no, I don’t teach music production over Skype, although I do realize it might be even profitable. The purpose of the “Advice” series is to make mechanisms of music production and industry a little bit more transparent and easier to understand. I would like to make this knowledge wide open, hence why I prefer blog posts rather than personal talks in Skype.

Read also: How to make a punchy bassline

2015   Advice   Kick and bass   Music production   Sound design