Whether you record live bands and real drum kits or use synthetic drum sounds, quite often you want to add some weight to the kick drum sound without making it sound “flabby” or overloaded. There are a few different ways of doing this, so let’s get started on really making your kick “kick”!
Narrow Band EQ
The easiest way to fatten up a kick drum is using EQ. But rather than just applying a simple “low shelf” type EQ, it is much better to apply a narrow band of EQ boost to the “fundamental” frequency of the kick.
First, choose a fully parametric band in your EQ of choice. Ideally, this should be one which is capable of narrow bandwidth settings (up to 100 is good!). Then, make the bandwidth (or “Q”) as narrow as it can go and set the gain to maximum. It is a good idea to turn your monitors down while doing this, as this technique can easily give some very loud signals while you are working on the first stage.
Set the frequency to around 500Hz or so and then, slowly, turn down the frequency. As you do this, you will hear certain frequencies which sound much louder. These are the harmonics or overtones. As you keep going lower, you will eventually get to the fundamental frequency; as a general rule this is somewhere between 50Hz and 100Hz. Once you have found this frequency you can pull the gain down to zero and open up the bandwidth a little and then gradually raise the gain control again until you have the required amount of “oomph”. By using this technique you are boosting only the most important and dominant frequency while leaving everything else intact.
Another option you can use in some situations is to create of copy of the kick drum track (audio or synth/sampler) and then, on this copy, add some distortion (perhaps using the free Camel Audio Camel Crusher) and a low-pass filter with the cutoff frequency set pretty low (maybe around 100Hz or so to start with) and then gradually raise the level of this distorted sound under the main kick.
You will probably need to adjust the distortion settings and the cutoff frequency of the filter to get a good balance. This effect doesn’t boost frequencies in the same way as the EQ method above does, but it works by adding in another layer which is only low frequencies, thereby effectively increasing the “weight.” Also, by adding some distortion you are actually increasing the harmonic density of the low and lower-mid frequencies which helps to give more “body” to the sound.
Mellow Sub Machine
Finally, you can always use that most simple (and often neglected) of synth waveforms, the humble sine wave. Find a synth with a sine wave option (I often use the Logic EXS-24 but any synth or plugin with a sine wave will work. There are even free ones that you can download), and then set up an amplitude envelope with appropriate settings (fast attack and short to medium decay and release, zero sustain) and then bring up the volume under the main kick. At this point you will need to adjust the tuning of the sine wave until you get the two sounds “in tune”. This really is a matter of trial and error, but you will know when it’s “right” because there will be a really warm and round emphasis of the “thump” of the kick. You may possibly have to remove a little of the real low end from the original kick as well to help things blend but that really depends on the original sound.
This article was originally published at We All Make Music, a website dedicated to helping musicians thrive in a post-label world. The author, Simon Langford, is a professional music producer and remixer whose group, Soul Seekerz, has produced numerous top 20 hits in the UK, including official remixes of hits by Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Kelly Clarkson. He also writes for the UK-based magazine Sound on Sound.