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Tip 5 : The Sub-kick Trick
music mastering
production tips
Tips and tricks from our engineers to help you with your music making
A good kick drum sound can often make or break a track. It’s probably going to be one of the few bass-end elements in your mix and so key to providing that low-end energy.  
While kick sounds can vary massively there are two basic elements that will probably be common to most. Lets call them ‘punch’ and ‘weight’. Punch is the top end, the knocky bit of the sound where the beater of the bass drum pedal hits the drum head. Without this your kick sound won’t have any clarity or thump and probably won’t translate well to audio systems with poor low frequency reproduction. Weight is all the subby bass-end energy, the stuff which gives the kick it’s depth and power.
If you’re using samples then it’s often possible to combine two sounds containing these elements to get the one perfect kick. However, if you’re dealing with a real bass drum or you don’t have a good sample to hand then there’s a great trick for bringing that sub-bass energy to a punchy but bass-light sound.
All you need is a noise-gate with a sidechain input and something which can generate a continuous sine wave like an oscillator or a synth. First tune your sine wave down to a suitably subby frequency, somewhere between 60Hz and 100Hz should do the trick. Then place the noise-gate after the synth or oscillator so that it cuts the signal to the mix. Now route a copy of your existing kick sound (by using a bus send or by creating a second copy) to the sidechain input of the gate and tweak the threshold settings so that the gate only opens when the kick hits. You will probably also have to adjust the hold and release controls so that the sine wave doesn’t get cut off too sharply when the gate closes again. By experimenting with these controls and the balance between the original kick and the gated sine wave you should be able to get a final sound that has all the top end punch and clarity but will some serious low-end weight.
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