Layering Kick Sounds using Tone Modules

Build the most potent kicks known to mortals using advanced drum layering techniques!

Beat Construction

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In almost all dance music, irrespective of genre, the ‘drive’ element reigns supreme. The drive element is the marriage of the bass and drums and in the days of flared trousers and big hair we called it ‘the groove’. In modern music the drive element can be a solitary tone based kick sound that anchors the track and provides the backbone for the groove of the track. You only have to look at Hip Hop to realise how the drive element has changed over the years. We now have entire songs that are driven by a single bass kick sound.

Using any old kick drum sample in your music will take you so far but to truly create a unique and fresh sound to use as your signature sound it pays to get dirty with sound design techniques. The technique I am sharing with you in this tutorial has been around for years. It incorporates using a sound module to create tone based kick sounds that can then be layered with other kick sounds. It is in effect a way of adding low frequency content to an existing drum sound and shaping it to behave as a bass undertone for the kick sound.

The process is quite simple but it does require a basic understanding of sound design principles. As we are using a tone module to create a layer for the kick sound we need to get our heads around how to use a synthesiser and in particular the simple and fun form of synthesis called subtractive synthesis.

Subtractive Synthesis

This process involves the generating of complex waveforms and then filtering the frequencies so that you are left with the sound you want. You take away the frequencies you do not need. Obviously the filters are crucial in subtractive synthesis and the better the filters and the wider the choice of filters available, the better the end result will be.

In this tutorial I am using the wonderful Strobe by FXpansion which is based on subtractive synthesis albeit with tons of extra editing and processing tools. The idea is to use an oscillator to create a lovely sub layer that can then be layered with the kick sound. However, before we can start to craft the sub layer we need to look at the track and in particular how the drum beat behaves. This helps us to understand the timing of the drum beat sequence which has a huge impact on how we shape the kick and the sub layer. By separating the kick drum from the beat sequence we can apply the layering process without worrying about whether the sub layer is too long or short in duration. To do this we use a technique that extracts both the note placement and timing information of a sound within a sequence.

I wrote an article for Sound On Sound magazine entitled Beat Ripping which uses this technique to rip commercial beats into different drum elements – kick, snare, hi hats and so on and to then use these ripped elements in your own compositions. I explain how to extract the timing information from any commercial track and to use it on your own drum sequences.

Once the kick drum has been extracted from the drum sequence we can start to process and layer it with our newly created sub layer.

In the video I show you how to extract midi and note information from a drum beat which can then be used to trigger the sub layer in the tone module. I show you how to extract the exact timing of the beat and use it on the sub layer to make sure both sounds are in sync. I show you how to use a synthesiser to create a sub layer and explain in detail the tools available to further shape the sub layer. I show you how to use a dynamic equaliser to remove redundant frequencies from the sub layer and to pronounce a specific frequency range so the sub layer cuts through the layers.

Plugins used in this video:

FXPansion Strobe

Waves F6 Dynamic EQ

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Layering Kicks
  • Using and Understanding Tone Modules
  • Understanding Frequencies
  • Understanding and using Oscillators
  • Modulators
  • Envelopes
  • Filters
  • Driving Inputs
  • Using LFOs
  • Tips and Tricks