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Kicks are without doubt the most fundamental element of most songs. Whick kick you will use for your tracks depends entirely on your style and intention, and you should always do what sounds best for you.

Nevertheless you should always have a high quality catalog of professional samples you can use in your music and then transform the elements to your liking.

When i started music production years ago, i’ve been struggling with two things: Where to find high quality kicks and how to make my kicks harder and cutting through the mix when necessary. My DAW just hadnt the greatest kicks back then and my musical knowledge was almost zero.

Luckily after years of music production and error and trial i can now create high quality kicks from scratch if i want to – but mostly i still prefere analog kick samples and add my own style to them.

In this article i will show you what to look for in a kick sample and how to make your kicks harder and optimize them so they fit into your mix.

Enjoy!

5 things you should avoid in a kick sample

To get started with a hardhitting kick you should select a high quality sample to begin with. Unfortunately there are a lot of samples out there which are either badly recorded or just sound like complete crap. You can save a lot of time selecting a good kick sample in the beginning – but of course you should always do what sounds best.

Nevertheless there are certain technical aspects you should avoid in your sound selection.

1. Avoid DC Offset

The thing with this is that it causes the sample to be asymetrical around the baseline which is 0 Dezibel. Means the sample is shifted towards one end of the spectrum, which limits the amount of headroom available greatly.

This is what a DC Offset looks like in a FX sample:

A DC Offset in a FX Sample
The peaks on the upper side reach much higher than the peaks on the lower side. The sample appears to be shifted horizontally.

2. Avoid clipped samples

Except a destroyed inharmonic sample is exactly what you want, you should avoid clipped samples at best. The possibilities for mixing are extremely limited because there is not much left from the original sound.

In the image you see the waveform in the peaks is squared instead of elliptical. This means the sample has been clipped.

Clipped Sample Waveform
A clipped kick sample by a large samplepack provider.

3. Look out for late peaks in the sample

When the initial attack ofn your kick is quieter than the following bass peaks of the sample, your kick sample could get “sucked” by these late peaks.

I had a hard time figuring this out when i made my first techno album and was wondering myself why the kick has been nearly impossible to hear and all there was is a huge subbass. Luckily i found the problem and changed the sample to a different one. 🙂

Late Peaks in a Sample

4. Don’t let it get too punchy

Contrary to the above example, you also don’t want an extremely hard attack most of the time. When you kick hits hard for a split second and the remaining parts of the sample is very quiet, you will create an earsplitting track with huge minibooms in the ear.

I want my drums punchy and loud, but when the body of the sample is too quiet compared to the beginning of the sample it will create a hard time for the listener to feel into the track.

5. Beware of hidden artefacts inside the sample!

Most samples i’ve encountered have turned out to be pretty clean and well recorded. But there are some companys out there releasing samples into the world filled with hidden artefacts inside the sample which are extremely painful for the ear to listen to and also take up your headroom while mixing.

This kick sample from a well known audio provider in the USA has a heavy artefact at the end of the kick which is only visible after tweaking a few knobs:

Kick Sample with Heavy Artefact Added

Looks scary to me.

Here another example:

Heavy Artefact in A Kick Sample
I mean what the fuck is this and why is it in the samples i bought a while ago?

Anyways, now you have a good starting point on selecting high quality samples on the technical side. Of course yopu should always trust your ear when doing sound selection and not just do it purely on technical aspects. But if you understand these concepts and red flags you will be able to better judge what will work technically and soundlike in your tracks – and you may even combine the best of the two worlds.

In my FREE Samplepacks section you can download a bunch of and 100% royalty free high quality samplepacks – including the “Ares Hiphop Drumkit” which contains a lot of handcrafted Oneshots as well as professional Drumloops and HiHat MIDI files.

Now that you have an idea of what to look for in a good kick sample, let’s move on to optimizing and transforming your kicks so they hit hard!

How to make your Kick hit harder

Even with a good sample there are plenty of options to optimize and tweak the kick to make it hit harder or louder without crushing the dynamics through distortion or limiting.

How you do it depends entirely on your style and intention, but there are some key points i have figured out which you can apply in most situations.

  1. Cut frequencies with an EQ

Although i am not a big fan of cutting frequencies, you should consider adding a harsh High Pass at 20 Hz and a harsh Lowpass on 18.000 – 20.000 Hz before i do anything else.

The human ear doesnt hear anything below 20 Hz or above 20.000 Hz, so these frequencies won’t be audible in your tracks but they will consume headroom you can use otherwise.

This is a basic EQ with a Lowpass and Highpass added on my kick just so it stays in the limits of human hearing. You can use it on other samples too.

EQ with Lowpass and Highpass

2. Dynamic EQ

After that i look for the base frequency of the kick which often lies around 80-150 Hz and apply a dynamic cut there which gets triggered by volume.

That means every time the kick gets played in the track this frequency gets cut a little bit in the beginning and goes up quickly again afterwards. With this method applied the overall level of the kick gets a bit more balanced.

In FL Studio you can do that with the Peak Controller Plugin and the “Link To Controller…” option.

In this EQ you can also cut a few frequencies or boost others to your liking. I did it with a small cut in the low mid frequencies and a boost in the high mid because the kick sounded a bit weak there.

Dynamic EQ on the kick

3. Compressing the peaks

Next you can add a compressor to catch the peaks of the kick.

I usually apply a pretty heavy compressor with quick attack and release and a 4:1 ratio. But then i turn the Wet Knob down to around 50% so the compressor gets applied to only half of the sample.

With this method you achieve a well rounded but not overcompressed attack. Try it out yourself!

Compressor Kick Fruity Loops
Don’t forget to set the Wet Knob to circa 50%

4. Compressing the lows

You ever thought about compressing the subbass of your kick?

For this i apply a second compressor but this time the attack hits right after the initial peak and gets released slowly. The threshold should be just slightly below your kicks body.

That’s how you achieve a heavy low end on your kick without destroying any punch or transients.

Usually i prefer medium ratio here and set the Wet Knob to about 60%.

Another Compressor for the Lowend

5. Add subtle Saturation

Now it’s time to get your kick glowing! Add a Saturator such as Fruity Blood Overdrive in FL Studio onto your mixer channel and choose a few subtle saturation settings to add harmonics and make your kick sound fuller.

I recommend to turn the Wet Knob down to 25% here even if you just added subtle color – you should trust your ears here.

Just remember to not overdo it with effects in general. Most people tend to aggressively use saturation as well as compressors and distortion to achieve a hard hitting sound while forgetting about the subtle harmonics they destroy meanwhile.

Anyways, with the tips above you should have a solid hard hitting kick on your hand now and even saved a little bit of headroom which you can use for your bassline or other subfreqency elements you may use in your tracks.

I hope this tutorial has helped you as much as i wished someone had shown it to me years ago. 🙂

If you want to learn more about How To Implement you Kick in the Mix, i have written another tutorial where i’m showing you how to use sidechain compression and groups in your DAW to get your kick cutting through the mix.

Enjoy <3

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