Using EQ to add Punch and Clarity on a TR 909 Kick Drum

Struggling to get your 909s to cut through the mix and invade the dance floor? Watch this.

Drum Design


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The Roland TR 909 is a classic drum machine that was released in 1983. Regarded as the industry standard ‘go to’ drum machine for all things Techno and House the TR 909 was and is a beast! Although it was on release a commercial failure it developed a following throughout the late 80s and early 90s featuring on countless hit records. It has now resurfaced as the defacto EDM drum machine!

If you own this legendary drum machine then you will be more than happy with its editing tools but what if you only have access to the samples and want to edit the sounds to taste? Let me show you how we first use corrective equalisation to remove redundant frequencies and then to use dynamic equalisation to shape and add motion to the sounds.

Redundant Frequencies

One of the most important processes in music production is that of using corrective equalisation to remove redundant and problematic frequencies from audio prior to mixing. We refer to this process as cleaning.

Filter circuits (such as low-pass filters, high-pass filters, band-pass filters, and band-reject filters) shape the frequency content of signals by allowing only certain frequencies to pass through. We are going to look at a filter circuit that uses both a high pass and low pass filters. The two together form what we in the industry term as a band-pass filter.

The type of equaliser filter I use for all cleaning tasks is a band-pass filter.

So, why band-pass? Because what we are trying to achieve is to remove low end frequencies that are not needed and high end frequencies that are also not needed (which many seem to ignore). These are called redundant frequencies. The frequencies we keep are the frequencies we are going to process.

Now that we have removed all redundant frequencies we can concentrate on colouring the ‘good’ frequencies that are left and with the 909 that means we use all manner of dynamic processing and in this department a dynamic equaliser reigns supreme.

Slope or Gradient

Filters do not have a no-effect at a frequency and then instantly jump and suddenly reappear at the next frequency. They have to get there somehow. The way, and by how much, they get there is called the gradient or slope. In the case of the shelving filter, the most common slope is 6 dB gain change per octave (doubling of the frequency). It takes time for the filter to attenuate frequencies, in proportion to the distance from the cut-off point. This is the slope.

When cleaning, the slope of the eq/filter is as important as to where you set your cut-off. They can be designed with varying degrees of steepness expressed in dBs/octave where the more dBs, per octave, the steeper the filter. I always extend an eq’s display to show a much broader range as this will invariably cover all the slopes. This then allows me to shape and match the eq slope to the response of the sound. This makes for a much smoother and accurate cut.

With dynamic equalisation the slopes/gradients are critical in achieving a good smooth transition from attack to release for the 909 kick drum.

Target Frequency

The hardest part of using equalisation is to find the exact frequency you want to process. There are processes in place that make this task easy to execute and one excellent trick is to use the band solo feature on the equaliser. Some well designed eqs will afford the user the ability to solo any eq node/band so that the specified frequency range can be heard in isolation. This is an extremely helpful aid and a technique I always use when it comes to using eq.

In the video I use a drum beat and the famous TR 909 kick drum sample and show you how to marry the two to achieve a huge, snappy and punchy sound. I explain the workings of a dynamic equaliser and how best to use it to remove redundant frequencies. Once we have performed the corrective processes we can colour the sound and this is where the dynamic eq really shines. I show you how to find specific target frequencies and what techniques to use to highlight them.

Plugins used in this video:

D16 Drumazon

FabFilter Pro Q3

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Dynamic EQ
  • Expansion and Compression
  • Range and Gain
  • Q and Resonance
  • Brickwall and Peaking
  • Threshold
  • Gradients
  • Wide-band and Narrow-band
  • Tips and Tricks