It’s pretty easy to find yourself using the same old kick-drum samples or settings when half the dance music industry seems content to roll with Roland 808 or 909 samples time and time again. But a fun little exercise you can do to combat kick-boredom is to make your own kicks from a snippet of random audio. If all goes well, you’ll have some harmonically rich sounds that are uniquely yours.
The direct inspiration for this little tutorial is the dark and gritty sounds of recent European techno, but the results can obviously be applied to whatever you deem fitting. Take a listen to Randomer’s track ‘Bring’ if you want to hear what I’m talking about. There’s an unusual sonic character to the booming kicks that draw you in. The idea here is to make something a bit different with a lot of character, so to begin with we need an audio sample featuring a lot frequencies that we can exploit, something with a bit of fuzz and texture - even a white noise sample will do the trick. From here, there’s a number of effects and techniques we can use to turn it into a kick - sample transposing, filters, filter envelope, pitch envelope, amplitude envelope, saturation and distortion, EQ, compression - the list goes on. And of course we can always layer another sample on top.
First things first though, change your sample to mono. A stereo kick drum is likely to have phasing issues that’ll affect your mix. Then we’re going to transpose the sample down, changing the pitch and speed of your sample. Not only will this give us some low-end frequencies to start playing with but, as long as time stretching is turned off in your DAW, the lowered speed will give us some texture.
Thirdly, we’re going to set up an amplitude envelope to make it a one-shot style percussive sound. So you’ll want to set your envelope amount to max and have your attack on zero, decay at around 100-400ms, sustain on zero and a little release - maybe 100-200ms. Next, do the same with a low-pass filter and its envelope - again with attack on zero, the decay very short (shorter than the amplitude decay), zero sustain and a little release. You want to be opening the filter for a split second to let some noise through. Add some filter resonance to give it a bit of a ‘thunk’. You should well and truly be able to hear the beginnings of a kick-drum now.
From here, everything you do is really up to your taste. Add some saturation to give it some beef. A very short pitch envelope will give your kick more of a clicky attack and you can add compression to tighten it up. A neat little trick is to use an EQ to tune your new kick. For instance, if your track is in F, add a very sharp boost at 87Hz. You can easily find a chart for tuned bass frequencies.
It might take you a few goes to make something interesting, but it may be worth it when you do. Experimentation is key - these instructions are just a starting point.