One of the most important parts of electronic music today is the quality of kicks. Back when I started making techno in the 90s, kicks had greater or lesser importance. You could use a drum machine like a 909, select a kick, and that was pretty much it.
Things have drastically changed.
The rise of the Funktion One and the emergence of better sound systems in clubs led producers to create kicks that were better defined. Club-goers began to show more interest in the well-crafted kicks, and producers have responded by putting a whole lot more work into the design of their low end.
Music fans know a great kick by the nice body sensation that gets you up and moving on the dance floor. But to better understand what goes into making a beautiful kick, you’ll need a bit of a sense of how sound is used in clubs.
Voices. By voices, we’re referring to how the sound is defined. The typical club will have a sub and a top. Since some tops have 2 voices, the average sound system would feature 3 voices at most. But while most of the kick is heard in the low end (ie, the sub), it actually comes through all voices. One thing new producers sometimes won’t realize is that hearing the kick is more about increasing the presence of the mids than about boosting the low ends.
Crossovers. This technical term refers to the frequency setting used to divide two voices. For example, the sub usually covers a frequency range going from 20hZ to roughly 80-100hZ. The mids will fall between that first crossover and the next one, which will define the frequency range covered by the highs.
Why it matters. Because knowing how sound is used in clubs will allow you to produce music that sounds the best it possibly can. And the more your music stands out for its technical quality, the closer you’ll be to standing alongside the top producers who have mastered their sound.
DJ mixers. If you look at DJ mixers like the Xone series by Allen & Heath, you’ll note they support 4 voices, with separate knobs for the lows, low-mids, high-mids, and highs. These mixers are a good way to get a better sense of how DJs will control your sound when playing it live.
What is a deep kick?
In more underground and non-commercial strains of techno music, deeper kicks are central to crafting that deeper, warm sound. Physically, you feel deep kicks heavier in the lower part of the body, hitting you below the hips for extra warmth.
There are different kinds of kicks:
The full kick: This one covers the frequencies ranging from super-low all the way up into the high-mids. It is very punchy, well-defined, and direct.
The mid-kick: Popular in lo-fi music, the mid-kick, as the name suggests, occupies more of the mids. The lower end of the song might be covered by a bass, or might not be as present in the genre. This one punches you right in the chest. It’s punchy, but lacks thump.
The low-kick: This one places the accent on the sub part of the kick. This means the bass won’t be struggling there, since it will move up to the lowest end of the mids. This one has less punch, and creates a warmer effect by landing below the hips.
One thing about kicks that often gets overlooked: you’ll benefit a lot by finalizing your kick as the last part of your mixdown. Why? Because until the track is completely finished, you can’t exactly know your track’s needs. This is a detail, but an important one. Try it, and you’ll see that adding the kick last can produce incredible results.
Once you determine your track’s needs, you can use these tricks to make your own kicks. I’ve also created a macro that should make things a lot easier, but first, here are some important tips:
Layer another kick for the mids. Use a sample of a kick you like for the mids. This means you need to cut its lowest end to avoid conflict with the sub. The simpler the lows, the better the results.
EQ. A good method here is to slightly cut down the 160-to-200hZ range. This little hole you’ll create will allow the crossovers to breathe, and will open more room for the lows. You can lightly boost it around 1khZ to help define the transient and attack.
Compression. Use at the end of your chain to glue everything together.
Here is the macro I created to help get you started. Having playing with it.
Let me know what you think of it!