Electronic dance music has a few characteristics that it’s extremely well known for. One of those characteristics is a fat, tight kick drum that drives the song forward and punches you in the gut. Getting the kick drum sound right in an EDM mix can instantly take your song to another tier sonically.
Yet with so much on the line, there are producers and engineers out there who would rather seek out new kick drum samples than working to improve and iterate on samples they’ve already got. They end up scrolling for hours until they find a single source that sounds right, or they end up settling for the next best thing.
But there’s a better way. The truth is you don’t need tons and tons of samples to choose from to find the right kick for your mix. In fact, it’s likely already in your collection and just needs a little manipulation to fatten it up and get it sounding right.
Fatter Kicks with Dynamic Processing
Fatter kick drums start with dynamic processing – and there are a lot of options to choose from.
A few of my favorite options are transient shaping plugins and peak clippers.
Transient shaping is a super powerful process that involves changing the attack and sustain of your track’s transients. By making the attack more pronounced and the sustain shorter, you can craft a kick drum that’s clear and clicky without having a lot of resonance taking away from each hit. Fat kick drums shouldn’t be boomy or ring out – they should be intentional, controlled, and pack a punch.
If transient shaping alone isn’t cutting it for you, tools like JST Clip let you clip the peaks of each hit harmonically. This is a bit different than digital clipping where the software rounds off your peaks unnaturally because the signal is too loud – peak clippers identify and fold transients that cross a threshold back into the track, resulting in more perceived loudness and aggression.
Once you’ve got your kick drums fattened with processing, the perfect final step is to add some bus compression like in Christian’s example below:
Layering EDM Kick Drums
Sometimes, a single kick track just isn’t enough. You may find that the top end of one kick sample works well, but another has a better body to it that fits the style of the song a bit better. In these situations, layering kick drum samples is an extremely valid fix that we’d recommend you try out.
Blending two or more samples allows you to take the best aspects of each and combine them. It’s just like double tracking a guitar with a different amp or singing a vocal double with a different signal chain – the more harmonic complexity there is, the more interesting the sound can be.
The only word of caution I would voice here is that there’s such a thing as “too many” kick drums. After the 2nd or 3rd sample, you’ll start to find that your returns are diminished and that you’re doing more harm than good by eating up all that space in the frequency spectrum.
But if you start from a couple sounds you like and you can combine them in a way that sounds naturally fat – go for it!
Boosting the Bass in Your Kick
Sometimes we need to take a cue from the stage when working on songs in the studio which is where this next tip comes in. Boosting low end frequencies isn’t something that’s a great idea for many instruments. Rather, you should be cutting those frequencies with a high-pass filter most of the time!
We do that to make room for situations like this though. With other instrumentation cleared out of our low end, bass and kick drums can really start to shine with broad bass boosts using EQ. This is done all the time on stage by EDM DJs whose whole focus is making sure that the low end is felt, not just heard.
If a wide boost on your master bus is a bit too much, you can choose a smaller portion of the frequency spectrum to boost on just the kick track. When you do, make sure you’re cutting that same area from your bass. This gives the two instruments separation and helps fatten up the kick just a little more.
Building a Sample Library
There are tons of great drum samples out there across dozens of different genres. Mixing and matching them can give producers some truly unique sounds, but first they need to decide where to start.
If you’re new to producing or currently work with a different genre than EDM and you’re looking for some ways to bring that style into your sessions, make sure you check out our Post-Production Kaoss Vol. 1 sample pack. In the pack, we’ve collected some of the best hits, slams, and booms for production across all genres, plus some other effects and samples geared to help get your creative juices flowing!