Perfect Bass Drum Sound
Would you like to learn the techniques and tools for designing, shaping and mixing bass drum sounds that are perfect for your music productions?
Whether you want a powerful, deep and boomy sound, a tight and focused sound, or a bass drum that punch you in the face.
Perhaps you have asked questions like:
How to make your Kick Drum Punchy?
How to make your Kick Drum Deep?
How to make a Fat Kick Drum?
How to get the Kick Drum cut through in the mix?
Hello Composers! =)
My name is Mike, founder of professionalcomposers.com, music composer and sound designer since 1998, old school nerd, and coffee addict. So grab a cup of coffee and join me now: to learn, implement and master: the bass drum sounds in your music productions!
1. Learn the Main Bass Drum Sounds
Your first action is to do a listening session with the purpose of developing and improving your ear for the different kinds of bass drums and variations of them. Their main tone, character and color etc.
Here are the most common types of bass drum sounds. Their purpose is to provide the deep powerful percussion sound for the low-end of your music.
- Big Orchestral Percussion
Deep and thundering cinematic percussion like the Gran Cassa or Taiko Drums.
- Acoustic Drum Kit Kick Drums
The classic acoustic drum kit have many variations and sizes for the kick drum.
- Electronic Drum Machine Kick Drums
The most essential kick drums here are the punchy 909 kick and the boomy 808 kick.
- Sound Design Bass Hits
There are many types of low hit sounds that you can use on their own, or as layers for your bass drum sound.
2. Layering for a Bigger Sound
Next you should experiment with the power of layering to create bigger, richer and fatter sounds. This is especially useful for short and percussive sounds, like a bass drum sound for example.
You can use many layers to make up a single part of the sound, such
The Layers of a Bass Drum Sound
I divide the main parts of the bass drum hit into 3 main layers. Even if you are using a single kick drum, you will still have these aspects of the sound. The Fundamental Layers as I personally see them are:
- The Deep Boom (Sub)
- The Main Punch (Stomp)
- The Initial Attack (Click)
You can even use several layers to make up a single part of the sound. For example layering 3 different hits to create the Main Punch layer. Your options are limitless, so have fun experimenting with the power of layering.
3. Add a Bass Enhancer or Sub Kick
You can also add a bass enhancer or sub kick simulator insert effect on the bass drum channel, to add even more low-end. However, this is not really necessary if you are already using an 808 type sub kick, or a sub bass synth hit.
But it is a quick and easy way to boost the deepest parts of the bass drum, and you can always mix it in just a bit to add some extra sub bass color to the final bass drum sound.
4. Tune your Bass Drum
Kick drums and bass drums are mainly considered to be non-pitched sounds. Which means you can not tune them. But I beg do differ. An 808 kick drum can most certainly have a fundamental pitch. And even a classic acoustic kick drum can be tuned differently, which means it at least have some degree of a base tone.
You can simply add a tuner as an insert effect on your bass drum channel to find out the current fundamental pitch. Or use your ears by comparing to for example a piano note on another track. Then you tune the bass drum either with a pitch-shifter effect in your DAW or inside the plugin or sample library.
The purpose of tuning your bass drum is to use the same fundamental tone as the key of your song. This will make it feel more natural in the complete mix.
5. Compress your Bass Drum
Dynamic range compression, or compression for short, is a way to increase the average loudness of sound by…well…compressing the dynamics. It does this by turning down the loudest peaks in the waveform, so that you can then turn up the level of the sound without clipping.
Percussive sounds like bass drums can be compressed very high compared to vocals, chords, lead melodies etc. So go ahead and compress the heck out of your bass drum sound, if you want to boost the level and power.
6. Add Saturation on the Bass Drum
Analog type distortion and harmonic saturation will make a sound fuller, richer and more powerful by boosting the harmonic overtones.
You can experiment with different kinds of saturation plugins like: amplifiers, distortion units, fuzz pedals, tape saturation etc.
I recommend that you also treat your layers and ranges differently when using distortion and saturation. The Main Punch layer is usually where you can add most harmonic saturation.
7. Use Parallel Compression
Compression in itself is a wonderful effect. But the main drawback of using lots of compression is that you suck all natural character and dynamics out of the sound.
One way you can get the best of both worlds is by using parallel compression. It’s actually pretty easy, and many compressors even come with this feature built in.
You basically mix two layers together. One super compressed version of the sound, and one dry non-compressed sound. And it is most often a simple mix-knob on the compressor if it supports parallel mode.
8. Use Sidechain Compression
Sidechain compression has become a staple of modern music production. The way it works is basically to have one sound be the master, and another sound the slave. The master is most often the bass drum, and the slave is the bass group.
Because the bass drum will compete in the low-range with other bass instruments. So if you want to make sure your bass drum is always in focus and powerful, you can use sidechain compression.
You add a compressor with sidechain capability on the bass instrument or bass group. Then you assign the bass drum track as the sidechain input. And finally you dial in the settings on the compressor while listening to the result.
Now every time the bass drum hits, the sidechain compressor will activate compression on the bass group. Which essentially will lower the volume of the bass group only during every single bass drum hits. And if the bass drum is not playing, the compressor will do nothing.
9. EQ your Bass Drum
The equalizer is essential for shaping the tone and frequency range focus of a sound. And I personally go back to the 3 main layers of the bass drum sound when I apply EQ: The Deep Boom, The Main Punch, and The Initial Attack.
Find the peak resonance and main tone of the kick drum, and use that as the fundamental starting point for your EQ adjustments. This will work even better if you have already tuned your bass drum.
Let’s say you have the fundamental pitch of your bass drum on 60Hz. Then you can add a thin boost on that frequency to focus the deep boom layer of the sound.
Then you simply double this frequency to get the first fundamental harmonic, in this case 120Hz. And you will have get a more focused punch layer of the sound.
Finally you find a good frequency range in your complete bass drum sound where you can add some clarity in the attack. Usually in somewhere in the 1 to 2 kHz range is a good starting point.
POWER TIP: Finally you can use the exact EQ settings, and apply them in reverse on your bass group, which will drastically improve the separation between your bass drum and your other bass instruments.
10. Use a Transient Designer
A transient designer is a special effect plugin you can use on your bass drum to shape the attack and sustain part of the sound.
Basically it is a kind of special compressor that focuses on the initial attack part of the sound, as well as the ringing sustain part of the sound.
You can use a transient designer to make your bass drum snappier by decreasing the sustain. Or punchier by increasing the attack. The transient designer usually have two simple dials: attack and sustain, which you dial in to create the perfect shape for your final bass drum sound.
Congratulations – Here is Your Project
Congratulations my friend. You have now leveled up your knowledge of action and energy in music, that you can apply to your music compositions and productions. Now take action and learn by doing.
Here is your Final Project
Create a track with a high energy and action level, suitable for an intense action sequence in a movie. For example: a car chase, a fight scene, or perhaps an earthquake. Good luck, and have fun composing and producing action music.
My name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist, video creator, coffee lover, and true nerd…
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