One of the most frequent questions I get is how to make a kick drum sound better. This is understandable as, and I’ve said this many times before, your kick drum is the anchor of your mix. It grounds the groove and rhythm of the song and is how the listener finds their bearings so to speak in your mix.
One of the easiest ways to get your kick sounding great (along with my recent bass drum EQ tutorial) is to use the sine wave kick drum trick. It’s super easy to employ in your mix and it doesn’t cost you a dime as you can do this with any virtually any DAW. Best of all, this trick pays huge dividends throughout your entire mix.
Sine Wave Kick Drum Trick
The sine wave kick drum trick involves adding a sine wave signal to your mix which triggers alongside your kick. A sine wave is the most simple of waveform shapes and, when played, emits a nice round tone. With little character and playing a fixed frequency, it’s amongst the simplest of tones.
When this tone is used to play lower notes in the sub 100Hz frequency range, it sounds like a nice thick thud which is akin to the fundamental “meaty” sound in professionally recorded kick drum.
While a sine wave kick drum is perfect for supplementing naturally recorded kick drums which are heavy on the clicky beater head but thin in the low end, this can be used to beef up the kick in any mix or even exist as the entirety of the kick on its own.
Step 1 – Create a Sine Wave Midi Track
First, create a midi track and drop a sine wave instrument on it. I work in Ableton Live so I just searched for “sine wave” to find an instrument built in that works. The settings I use in the image above don’t have much of a bearing on the sound as the gate does most of the work.
You’ll note I left the cutoff essentially off, meaning the higher frequencies are not low passed (see my overview on EQ filters for more information on low passing). I did this because most of the tone is right there in that 60Hz area. That said, there’s a bit of harmonic sound higher up which I think actually benefits the overall tone, so I left it on. You can cut this off or even add an EQ to further sculpt the sound as you like.
Step 2 – Create One Mix-Long Note
Next we actually create one, constant note which plays for the duration of our mix:
I recommend setting the note as C2 which is 65Hz if you’re not sure where to set it. As an added bonus, you can adjust this note to instead be in whatever the key of your song is at the next nearest note. In this example the song is in B so I have it one semitone below C2 at B1 (61.74Hz).
While you can set the note to repeat every bar, I find it’s cleaner if you just have the constant tone playing throughout rather than hearing any artifacts of the tone starting or stopping when it gets triggered by the gate (in the next step).
Step 3 – Set a Gate Triggered by Your Existing Kick
Lastly, add a gate to the track with the sine wave and set it to get audio from the kick drum. If you have multiple kick drums, set it to whichever is the cleanest one. If your kick is a live recorded kick with mic bleed (even after you might have a gate on that track itself), we’ll use the threshold to ensure it only plays when the kick itself is playing.
The important settings for the gate are the threshold, the attack, and the release times.
The threshold dictates at what volume the kick has to play to open the gate so that we hear the sine wave kick drum.
Set the threshold to just catch the peak of the softest kick played. In the case of a live recorded performance, the kick isn’t going to be at the same volume every time. Some hits will be harder and louder, whereas others will be softer, even if the song’s intensity remains the same throughout.
We want to find that sweet spot between the softest kick (in the case of a live recorded performance) and any ambient sound on the track.
Attack dictates how long in milliseconds before that gate opens and we hear the tone when that threshold is reached.
In the example above, I have the attack set at 50 ms. This is a relatively slow or long amount of time to open that gate to hear the tone.
This is deliberate, as a slower attack allows the transient of the kick drum, meaning that initial “click” of the beater head hitting the drum, to cut through alone for a split second. 50 ms later the “meat” of that kick comes in in the form of our sine wave kick drum, so we get that nice thick ~60 Hz to.
Experiment dropping the attack all the way down to 0 ms and you’ll hear the thickness muffle the click so that we lose that transient. That’s why I prefer a relatively slower attack on this gate to give myself full control over the profile of that kick by way of the timing.
Release determines how long we hear the thickness that is the sine wave kick.
Because it’s a constant tone, if we set this release time as high as it will go, we’ll hear that tone for that duration.
15 ms is a nice compromise for the release time where we hear that thickness but it disappears as quickly as it comes through. With slower songs you can extend that release time to be a bit longer as compared to faster songs.
Experiment with this length to get that sweet spot. Ideally you can sync this up with or at least outlast the decay time of the actual kick drum. Generally, though, a shorter release time will keep your kick sounding tighter.
Sine Wave Kick Drum Tips
- A simple sine wave makes a perfect supplement to add all of the low end you need to your existing kick drum.
- A sine wave kick drum can be made using a simple sine wave, a constant low note (optional: set to key of song) which plays throughout your mix but is triggered by a gate.
- The gate should be triggered by your existing kick drum.
- The gate’s threshold should be low enough to catch the quietest kick in your mix but high enough to not open from ambient noise on the kick.
- The attack should be experimented with, but 50 ms works well for allowing the “click” of the beater head to cut through first.
- A release time of 15 ms is a good start to experiment with. Shorter release = tighter kick.
2 thoughts on “The Sine Wave Kick Drum Trick of the Pros”
Pingback: Compressor Ratio Explained - An Easy Way to Remember - Music Guy Mixing
Pingback: Bass Guitar EQ Guide to Perfect it Every Time - Music Guy Mixing