Tight Kick drum sounds
A tight kick drum sound can really help the low end of your mix. One way to achieve this is using LFO tool by Xfer Records. Steve Duda of Xfer Record tells the story in this Masterclass of hearing an early Deadmau5 track with an overly long kick in a large club. He noticed the kick drum consuming all the low end of the track. This meant that the mix sounded stagnant on club sound systems.
If we think of a mix like a painter’s canvas with limited space, it’s easy to see how a shorter kick drum can help the low end. There are times when we do want a Kick drum that has a big sustain and decay. For example, if we are working on song where the kick is the most prominent part of the production. But a lot of the time and in most genres, it can really help to go shorter with your kick drum sounds.
Using LFO Tool to get a tight kick drum sound
This technique will work equally well on a Kick part that is audio or MIDI. In the following example I’ve explained how we would apply the concept with a MIDI kick part. If you have an Audio kick (a live recording or audio WAV kick files arranged into your DAW) I recommend using the ‘Drum to MIDI’ feature in Ableton to extract your kick as a MIDI file which you can feed into LFO tool.
Step 1 – Copy the Kick MIDI
Our first task is to make a complete MIDI copy of the Kick part and paste this into a new Instrument channel in Ableton. If your song uses a simple ‘4 on the floor’ pattern throughout you can skip to Step 2. The reason we copy the kick pattern is so we can make LFO tool respond to every unique kick hit. See figure 1 below.
If you have an Audio kick as mentioned above here is one workaround. Consolidate your whole kick pattern into a single audio file. Then use Ableton’s ‘Drum to MIDI’ feature to get a copy of your Kick part in MIDI. Notice this tune has a kick on a weak beat. This is why we need to send a copy of the part to LFO tool later, so it doesn’t have unwanted effect on kicks that fall on weaker beats.
Step 2 – Add LFO Tool to the track
Our next step is to add LFO tool as a plugin into the MAIN kick channel (not the copy). Note that LFO loads the init preset which is a shape intended for sidechaining. (fig 2 below)
Step 3 – Adjust the LFO tool Envelope
LFO tool is quite a complex plugin with up to 12 envelopes and lots of functions but we’re just going to use it in the simplest way here. We need to adjust envelope 1 (which is set to affect the volume of the channel) and I recommend first trying a shape an 1/8th note long (4 squares on the grid). You could also try a shorter setting to give a 16th note or dotted 16th as I did here (fig 3 below)
Step 4 – Switch on MIDI note retriggering
Next we will switch on MIDI note retriggering so that LFO tool isn’t just repeating this envelope every 1/4 note. This would work for the 4/4 quick as mentioned earlier, but here we will assume we have a complex kick pattern. Switching on MIDI note retriggering (fig 4 below) allows us to send the kick MIDI part to LFO tool in the next step.
Step 5 – Set the MIDI routing
The final step is to set up the MIDI routing from our kick copy channel. What we need to have is the MIDI being sent to the main kick channel and then being routed into the MIDI side chain of the LFO tool. This might sound complicated but it’s fairly easy to achieve. Start by clicking the little IO button on the right hand side of Ableton. Next set the output routing of the COPY channel as follows (fig 5 below)
With this set up correctly we should now see the little blue line moving across the grid in a 1/4 note when we play the song. If it is set up correctly the little blue line should start at the beginning of the envelope each time a kick lands. (fig 6 below)
We should also hear the envelope being modulated to follow the line we drew in Step 3. Here we can also experiment with different shapes and adjust to the best suited shape for our track.
This example shows you how easy it is to achieve a tight kick drum sound with the simple LFO tool plugin and clear up the low end of the mix. Let me know how you get on with the technique and any questions you might have in the comments.