Evolution Of The Kick Drum In EDMIn its early stages electronic dance music featured standard kicks from the ubiquitous Roland drum machines such as the TR808 and TR909. Today these drum machines are far less popular. Though the units themselves can still be found in some studios, samples taken from these drum machines are far more accessible and easier to come by. That said, the TR808 and TR909 created some good starting points for the evolution of the synthesized kick drum, most modern dance tracks feature much more complex drum samples, with high-pitched initial transients or clicks capable of cutting through just about any mix, modern kick drums are more versatile than their predecessors.
Layering Kick SamplesThe best kicks in our opinion are a result of layering samples, from clicks to subs, in an attempt to create a punch which is subtle enough to not overpower a mix, yet present enough to drive the beat. Anywhere from two to four samples can be layered to create a well-rounded kick, though I usually think that the simpler process the better. Essentially you want to focus on three elements in creating your kick drum. The first is the initial attack stage, which is incredibly short and atonal, much like a click. The second is body or “meat” of the drum which gives it its punch. The final stage is the finish or decay, which tends to be subtle and ultra-low in frequency.
Shaping TransientsA transient designer will help you modify the initial attack stage of your first sample. When creating kicks I usually start with a looped kick sample that features an interesting attack, then I use an equalizer and some careful editing to separate the transient from the body and bass of the kick. Next I’ll use a transient designer to enhance that transient to taste.
Putting It All TogetherOnce my initial transient is more or less how I like it, I will sync up some “body” kicks on a separate channel, and cycle through different samples whilst triggering my initial transient to see how they sound together. Usually my body kicks have transients of their own, so to keep the body kick’s transient from messing up that of the first kick, I’ll use some careful volume automation. The third channel will feature my finish or decay sample.
By syncing my first two samples together and then playing them back on a loop whilst cycling through different decay kicks, I’ll find one that fits what I had in mind. At this point it’s good to keep in mind that finding samples that naturally work together and are in phase from the start is highly recommended. One could waste hours trying to make two samples work together only to find that it just isn’t happening. That said do yourself a favor and find enough samples so that you can just cycle through them until something sounds nice. Then use minimal processing to get everything sounding right.
Sourcing Kick SamplesAnother technique producers should never hesitate to try is sampling from another artists kicks. Some might have reservations about whether or not this technique is ethical, though having worked in this industry for a very long time, we can assure you that many of the best and most popular artists rely heavily on this technique. That is not to say that there isn’t any reason to build your own kick drums, as that will eventually prove useful towards gaining a solid foundation in sound design.
If you find a kick that you like in another artists track, and it is relatively clean, just grab it and don’t think twice about it. Many artists intentionally leave the final few bars of a track stripped down exactly for the purpose of giving other artists something that they can grab and recycle in their own music. To clarify, EDM originated with sampling and as far as most industry veterans are concerned, that part of music production will never be off limits as long as samples are used to create something new and original.