When it comes to mixing, few things are more frustrating than knowing how you want your mix to be, versus how it actually is and the feeling that you’ve tried everything you can to get there, but it just won’t get there.

One thing that has especially continued to elude me is how to get the kick drum to sound strong and present in the mix without too much amplitude accumulation at the low frequencies.  I’ve tried boosting and cutting the kick at certain frequencies and then boosting and cutting the opposite frequencies in the bass.  It helps, but it’s still not enough.  I’ve also tried making multiple kick tracks that use different drum kits.  For example, I would chose one sound for the attack, another for the low end, and yet another because of the overall timbre.  Again, it helps, but it’s still not enough.  What can it be that makes a great kick sound?

Well, the other day, I think I finally figured out one technique that significantly helps: using an oscillator with a noise gate side-chained to the kick track.  Stay with me on this one–it’s kind of technical.

First of all, let’s talk about what an oscillator is.  Basically, an oscillator is just something that generates sound waves (usually sine waves) at a certain frequency.  You can usually specify which frequencies it makes or what kind of sound wave.  Often, oscillators are used to test sound systems/monitors.  But when it comes to kick tracks, you can set the oscillator to create sine waves at around 50 Hz to give the kick more of a “boom.”

The reason why you use sine waves is because they are the simplest kind of sound wave and don’t have any kind of harmonics; a sine wave only contains one frequency.  Therefore, sine waves are ideal for enhancing kick sounds because there won’t be any unwanted “rumble”–just the one frequency you set the oscillator to.

You can’t just create a new track with an oscillator set at 50 Hz and be done with it.  If you did, the oscillator would be sounding constantly, and then it wouldn’t be enhancing anything at all.  After creating a new audio track for the oscillator, you have to be sure that the oscillator is only triggered when the kick sounds.  The way we do this is by using a noise gate.

Noise gates are very useful in mixing because they only let a track sound when it reaches a certain threshold of loudness, so we can use this with the oscillator track to be triggered only when the kick drum is playing.  So add a noise gate plugin to the oscillator track, and set up a side chain to the kick track so that the noise gate is applied in relation to the kick rather than in relation to the oscillator.  In Logic, there should be a menu labeled “side chain” in the upper right corner of the noise gate plugin window, so just click on that and select your kick track.  If your kick is a MIDI track rather than audio, you may need to convert the track to an audio file before you can side chain anything to it.  Or, you can set the output of the MIDI kick to an unused bus.

I’m still trying to figure this out myself, so correct me if I’m wrong about any of this.  Also, check out this link to see more detailed instructions on using an oscillator to enhance a kick:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr09/articles/logicworkshop_0409.htm#2 

When I read that article and tried those techniques out on one of my mixes, I was stunned by the results.  It was finally that kick sound that I had been looking for all this time!  I still have a long ways to go in my mixing skills, but getting the kick to sound right is a good step in the right direction.  Let me know if this oscillator trick helps with your mixes, too!

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About Shelby Rawlings Blalock

I'm a 21-year-old composer, pianist, music producer, audio engineer, and GRAMMY Camp 2012 alum. My neoclassical, self-produced piano album "Airborne" is available now on iTunes.

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