The All-Mighty Kick Drum

 

As I see it, the Kick Drum was always one of the most important core elements in electronic music, and in many other music genres. One could say that the kick represents the backbone of the rhythm. When choosing the right kick for your track sometimes you get lucky by randomly picking the right one that sits well with the bass and other rhythm elements in the mix. However, the process of trying to mix the kick with the aforementioned elements can give you a proper headache most of the time. No matter how much you’re processing it with various equalizers, compressors or other tools, it still doesn’t seem to sound decent in the mix.

 

Having said that, I need to mention that most kick drums and other percussive instruments have their tuning that can be changed by using certain samplers  I am of the opinion that a really useful tool that could help determine the base key of the kick is a spectrum analyzer like SPAN by Voxengo, and that it could be a good starting point. In the following tutorial I will guide you thru this process.

 

Tune it up

 

First and foremost, I will find a sample of a proper sounding kick and import it into a project where I have already made a basic setup with the bass and a couple of other rhythm elements.

Kick, bass and rhythm

 

Now let’s hear how the unprocessed kick drum sounds, first with the bass and then with the bass and rhythm together.

 ~Unprocessed Kick Drum and Bass

~Unprocessed Kick Drum, Bass and Rhythm

 

It is clear that that the mix between the kick drum and other elements is not good. The kick drum has punch and some decent low end, but it is totally not sitting right in the mix. In order to fix this, I will open a new instance of Battery 4 by Native Instruments and just drag and drop our kick drum sample into a new cell.
The part of the interface that is marked red will be the section that I will pay attention to while tuning the kick drum.

Battery - Pitch envelope

 

The Amount parameter actually sets the degree to which the envelope affects the pitch. Decay parameter edits the time needed for the envelope to go from its initial level (as set with the Amount control). To Pitch parameter will translate the input velocity to semitones (with an underlying minimum value of 0 st., and a maximum value of +12 st.). To tune the kick drum properly from this point, I would advise you to trust your ears and your speakers. Checking the spectrum analyzer too often could just confuse you, instead of helping you. So after experimenting with the values of the 3 parameters I have described in the upper section, our kick drum, together with the bass, sounds like this:

~Tuned Kick Drum and Bass

 

Tweaking the Kick to Perfection

 

I would say that we are on the right path now, but I am still not totally satisfied with how it sounds. For this reason, I will process it further with built in equalizer and compressor found in Battery 4. There is too much energy in the low mid part of the frequency spectrum so I will attenuate it for a couple of decibels. Furthermore, I will use the compressor to make a final polish.

Battery 4 - EQ & Compressor

 

Finally, let us hear how the end result sounds like. First processed kick drum with just the bass and then full mix with the rest of the rhythm elements.

~Tuned and Processed Kick Drum and Bass

~Tuned and Processed Kick Drum, Bass and Rhythm