As a mastering engineer and former producer, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to mix with sounds that work well together from the outset, requiring as little processing as possible. This advice changed my life many years ago, and allowed me to approach my work in an efficient, linear fashion. Not only did my mixes sound more musical and organic, but they were louder and punchier than ever before. Every producer has struggled with basslines at some point in their career. Being able to throw down a solid low-end beat quickly and efficiently is perhaps what differentiates professionals from amateurs. A brief internet search of “kick bass tips tricks” will yield countless results, featuring forum topics discussing this particular aspect of electronic music production in depth. Yet if you haven’t already, there is one method that makes the entire process as simple as can be.
At first you can use this approach when working with low-end elements such as kick and bass, but keep in mind that creating multiple instruments from the same source can improve other elements of your mix as well. By limiting your sample palette to complementary sounds, you can focus on the more creative aspects of your mix and leave the science of making everything work together to the other producers who don’t mind wasting time trying to make things work. That said, the quickest way to get your kick and bass to cooperate with one another is to source them from the same sample. By sculpting your kick sample to suit your bass needs, you avoid the myriad phase issues that make this area of production so tedious. In this article I will briefly discuss how to go about creating basslines that melt seamlessly with your kicks, so that you can work through your productions with ease and efficiency, much like the professionals do.
Sourcing Your Kick Drum
The first step is selecting the sample you will use for your kick. The producer must keep in mind that since this kick will also be repurposed as our bassline, it needs to have certain qualities in order to make this possible. Our kick sample must have enough low-end content to where it can stand on its own once we remove the initial transients, i.e., the click and thud created by a sinus sweep, found in most modern kick drum sounds used in electronic dance music. For this reason it may be helpful to use a kick synth such as the BazzISM plugin by Intelligent Sounds & Music or KICK by Sonic Academy, as you can modify all aspects of your kick drum to best suit your needs. Ideally, our kick’s decay will be somewhere around 500-1000ms, depending on what tempo you are working with. As a point of reference, a kick with a decay of about 750ms would be suitable when working at 128bpm. Just remember that slower tempos would require even longer kicks. Just try to keep the length short enough so that they don’t extend into the next beat.
Processing Your Kick Drum
Once you have your kick drum sorted out, create a 4 or 8 bar loop and bounce it in place so that you aren’t tempted to alter it in any way. Keep in mind that we will rely on subtractive synthesis to produce our bassline from our kick. This ensures that we don’t introduce any new harmonic content that may end up causing phase issues between the kick and bass.
The next step is to crop your kick loop down to just one hit, and drop it into a sampler on a separate midi track. Draw notes on the off beats and extend them to the end of the beat, so that they are about a half-note in length. Be sure to bump up the decay and release timing on the sampler so that our sample isn’t cut off in any way. Add a simple EQ plugin to your sampler channel and roll off the mids and highs to taste. I would recommend setting a low-pass filter at around 350hz with a slope of about 18db/octave. Just make sure that you get rid of the initial click and sweep, and are left with only the low frequency content. Also don’t set your slope too steep as it will introduce phase issues and would ultimately eliminate the very advantages inherent in this technique that make it so useful.
Add Some Delay
The next step involves dropping a simple delay device on the sampler track. Set the device to between 25 and 35 percent wet so that the loudest part of the loop is the dry sampler note we placed on the off-beat. For a bouncing beat try a dotted 1/4 note delay, and for a more rolling beat, try dotted 8th or 16th note delay.
The final step is to drop a compressor on your sampler channel and set the incoming side-chain to your kick. Use a wet/dry setting of about 60-70 percent if possible, with a relatively fast attack 2ms or less, and a release between 100ms-200ms depending on the tempo you are working with. The trick here is to allow some of the uncompressed signal to come through so that we don’t lose the rolling effect created by all the base notes colliding with one another. Depending on your kick your settings will vary, but aim for an overall gain reduction of no more than 6db.
Once you are satisfied with your kick and bass, I would advise that you send both channels to an auxiliary bus, slap a hard limiter on them and then add some lows and highs to the compressed signal. Bring that auxiliary channel just up underneath your unprocessed kick and bass group at maybe -3db from the original signal.
This technique should serve as a starting point for those seeking to streamline a process by which to lay down the low end of a mix. Once you get the gist of how this all works, experiment with some of your own creative variations on this process to open new and exciting methods of creating organic sounding grooves.