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Get Your Kicks

Studio One Tips & Techniques
Published December 2013

When your recorded kick drum sound is lacking, Studio One offers numerous ways to beef it up.

Capturing the 'oomph' of a good kick drum might be one of the hardest aspects of recording drums. Many microphones exist that exaggerate the low and upper-mid frequencies in order to add beef and beater click respectively, and the old trick of using a woofer as a microphone still sees much use. But sometimes a kick drum track just needs help. This month, we look at an old technique for enhancing weak kick drums, realised four different ways in Studio One.

Oscillation Stations

The old-school method of adding low-end punch to a kick drum was to set up a test oscillator to output a low-frequency sine wave — at perhaps 50 or 60 Hz — run it through a gate, and send the kick drum track to the gate's side-chain input to trigger it. The oscillator was mixed in to taste. This approach still works very well, and it's easy enough to do in Studio One:Screen 1: A simple gated oscillator, triggered from the kick drum, can add welcome low-end punch.Screen 1: A simple gated oscillator, triggered from the kick drum, can add welcome low-end punch.

  • Make a new bus channel in the mixer and instantiate the Tone Generator plug-in on it. We'll name this channel 'kick LF sine'.
  • Set the Tone Generator to create a sine tone somewhere between, 40 and 80 Hz, depending on exactly what kind of thump you need. Caution: before you click the On button for the Tone Generator, turn the output level way down! You may well end up with the output level set to 0dB later, but it is a very good policy to avoid unexpected high-level sine bursts now.
  • Instantiate a Gate plug-in after the Tone Generator and click the Sidechain button in the plug-in editor header to activate the gate's external side-chain input. Turn the range knob fully counter-clockwise so that the range is set all the way down to -72dB, and consequently, no sine tone is leaking through when the gate is not triggered. By default, Duck mode is enabled in the Sidechain section, so you'll need to click it to disable it. Now our LF beef is all set up and we just need to direct the kick drum to trigger the gate to open.
  • On the kick drum channel, create a new send, choosing the Gate side-chain as a destination from the Sidechain drop-down at the bottom of the send output menu. You're good to go. Since there is actually no audio input to the Tone Generator channel, it is not necessary to enable input monitoring to hear it.
  • Play the song and adjust the send level, gate parameters and sine-tone levels as desired. Since most recorded kick drums have between some and a lot of leakage from other drums, you'll probably need a fairly high Open threshold. You probably want a non-instantaneous attack time — say, 30ms — to prevent clicks occurring when the sine is triggered.
  • To capture the low-frequency sine, you'll either need to do a bounce (export a mix), or create a stereo audio track, select the 'kick LF sine' bus as the channel input, and record the gated sine into the track.

The Virtues Of Virtual

When synthesizers became widespread, engineers turned to those instead of test oscillators for their sine waves. Today, of course, you can use virtual instruments. Unfortunately, a 50Hz sine wave is not simple to obtain with Mojito or Presence, the two instruments bundled with Studio One, but many users will have third-party instruments that can easily generate a very low-frequency sine. The advantage of using virtual instruments is that they can produce more interesting sounds than simple sine waves, and if you trigger them using MIDI notes you can have your synth sound emphasise the beater attack or some other part of the kick sound that needs particular help.

There is a workaround in Studio One for the lack of LF sines in the VIs, which is once again to use the Tone Generator plug-in for our sine generator. This time, we are going to generate MIDI notes from the kick drum with the Gate plug-in, and use those to play the sine via the Tone Generator's Gated output mode. Screen 2 shows how the setup differs from the first method:Screen 3: When the Trigger button is engaged, Studio One's Gate plug-in can be made to output MIDI notes whenever the input exceeds the threshold. Set the Range to zero if you don't want it to do any actual gating.Screen 2: Here, the MIDI notes ouput by the Gate plug-in's Trigger mode are being recorded to a track and used to trigger the Tone Generator plug-in — but you can use any virtual instrument.Screen 2: Here, the MIDI notes ouput by the Gate plug-in's Trigger mode are being recorded to a track and used to trigger the Tone Generator plug-in — but you can use any virtual instrument.

  • Go to the kick drum channel and instantiate a Gate plug-in on it. You're going to use this to generate MIDI notes — if you don't want it to actually gate the track, set the Range to 0dB and the gate will generate MIDI triggers but not affect the audio passing through it.
  • Click the Active button in the Trigger area of the Gate plug-in. If you are using a VI, you can set the MIDI note and velocity as desired. If you are using the Tone Generator plug-in, these don't matter. When you play the song, you should see a note icon flashing when the kick drum plays, telling you MIDI notes are being generated.
  • Create a new bus channel in the mixer and instantiate the Tone Generator plug-in on it.
  • Click the Gated output mode button on the Tone Generator. Now the Tone Generator output is enabled and disabled by MIDI notes routed to it.
  • Make a new instrument track and set its input to Gate and its output to the Tone Generator. This accomplishes two things: it provides a MIDI input to receive notes, and makes it easy to record them, which opens up further possibilities.
  • Enable input monitoring on the instrument track and start playing the song. The kick drum should trigger the Tone Generator output. Adjust settings on the Gate and Tone Generator plug-ins until it triggers cleanly and produces the frequency and level that sounds best.
  • Capturing the output is the same as for the first method.

Get The Bends

Both of the methods outlined above work well enough in most cases, but ultimately, using gates to generate triggers in real time is another old-school approach, and isn't always the most accurate or configurable one. In Studio One, the very best way to derive MIDI triggers from audio is to use Audio Bend markers:Screen 4: Studio One's advanced transient detection algorithm can be used to generate Audio Bend markers (top), which can then be turned into MIDI notes simply by dragging the event to an instrument track.Screen 4: Studio One's advanced transient detection algorithm can be used to generate Audio Bend markers (top), which can then be turned into MIDI notes simply by dragging the event to an instrument track.

  • Select the audio events on the kick drum track that you want to beef up, right-click on one of them, and choose the Audio / Audio Bend / Detect Transients command from the menu that drops down. Studio One will analyse the selected event(s) and place Audio Bend markers where it finds transients.
  • Optimise the Audio Bend markers by opening the Audio Bend panel and adjusting the threshold until only kick drum hits have Audio Bend markers. Usually, this means lowering the threshold value to reduce sensitivity so that leakage from other drums does not create Bend markers.
  • Create a new instrument track.
  • Drag the analysed event(s) from the kick drum track to the new instrument track. MIDI notes with velocity corresponding to the level of each kick note will be generated from the Audio Bend markers. You may want to use the Length command to shorten the generated notes to a desired duration.
  • Transpose the MIDI note to a convenient note to play a kick drum sample… or any other sample or synth sound.

Tiptoe Through The Transients

Here's one last approach that can be useful when you need to very quickly employ a single sample to augment a kick drum sound. In this one, you copy a sound to the clipboard and simply step through the project, pasting it over and over again in the right spots:

  • Import a short file of sine tone or other enhancement you want to add to the kick drum sound.
  • Create a new audio track for the enhancement sound. Move it to be immediately beneath the kick drum track.
  • You can't copy the sound to the clipboard directly from the Browser, so drag it into the new audio track, select it and copy it. Now you just have to find the right spots to paste it.
  • Locate to the beginning of the song, and select one or more audio events on the kick drum track you want to enhance.
  • Press the Tab key, and Studio One will jump to the next transient in the track.
  • Press the down arrow to select the enhancement track, which is just beneath the kick drum track.
  • Press Command-V (Mac) or Ctrl-V (Windows) to paste the sound from the clipboard at the transient location.
  • Press the up arrow to reselect the event on the kick drum track.
  • Repeat the previous four steps and move on through the song, pasting at transients you want enhanced.

Not Just For Kicks

I have illustrated four techniques for enhancing kick drums with sine tones, but all of these techniques can be applied more broadly. For example, bass or keyboard sounds have been made to hit exactly with the kick drum by sending the kick drum to the trigger side-chain of a gate in the bass or keyboard mixer channel. MIDI notes can play any sample or synth sound, so the kick can be doubled by a floor tom tuned down or an oil-drum hit, or you can enhance a snare sound by gating some filtered noise. Welcome to the world of cross-synthesis!    

Published December 2013