Friday, August 29, 2008

Distorted Kick Drums With Punch

A very popular sound among the various harder-edged styles of electronic music is the distorted kick drum. The technique can add instant 'attitude' to just about any track, and pushed to extremes can make for unbelievably harsh, hard-hitting beats. The problem is, the more you distort something, the more the clipping reduces the dynamics of the sound. Why does this matter? Drum and percussion sounds in particular get their 'punch' from the attack transient at the beginning of the sound. When you reduce the dynamic level in a destructive way (like distortion), you reduce the transient, resulting in a sound with balls, but no punch. Getting around this is very easy, though. Here's how:

1. Render your kick drum track as audio and import it back into you Sequencer/Audio program of choice.
2. Create 2 new audio tracks and drag your rendered kick drum track to both of them, thus creating a second copy of the track.
3. On the first kick track, set up the compression as you would for an ordinary dance kick drum. Make any EQ adjustments, and if you feel the sound needs more low-end, this is the place to do it.
4. Now, on the second, copied track, EQ the low end out of the sound (say, cutting out everything below 200Hz) and send it through your distortion of choice. Concentrate here on getting the tone you want.
5. Now, press play on your sequencer and set the clean kick channel up to the level you want your kick drum to sit at.
6. Finally, slowly bring up the volume level of the distorted track so it sits just 'behind' the clean, punchy kick. You can fiddle with the levels to get cleaner or dirtier sounds.

So essentially, you have the spit and grit provided by the distortion, but without losing the punch of an undistorted kick, and more importantly, keeping your low-end cleaner. Below is a short example. The first bit is the regular drum track, the second is the distorted drum track by itself, and the final is the combination of the two, as described in the technique above. In my example, I've kept the distorted channel relatively tame, obviously raising the level of the distorted track makes for a harsher sound.