The kick drum sound in today’s music is more important than ever, whether in rock, hip hop or EDM. The essential Quick BD StudioRack preset gets you the perfect kick tone fast—in just three controls.
By Craig Anderton
The Quick Bass Drum StudioRack preset showcases the benefits of having a single Macro knob alter multiple parameters simultaneously. Sweeping the preset’s Load control provides a continuous, smooth change in a kick drum’s sonic character—from the original tone to a bigger, more defined sound that can push its way through a mix. Although there are two additional controls, they mostly embellish the sound dialed in with the Load control.
Quick BD first goes through the AudioTrack Gate. Lowering the gate’s floor parameter tightens the kick sound by reducing the kick’s decay once its level goes below the threshold. This results in a shorter decay, with less ringing and room sound.
Next is a parallel split. One split is dry, while the other goes through a second AudioTrack that’s used solely for compression. The added parallel punch augments the original kick sound.
After mixing the two splits, next up is the star of the show—the V-EQ4. This sweet-sounding, vintage Neve EQ emulation uses four EQ stages to shape the kick to fit with your particular mix.
Using the Macro Controls
The above image shows how crucial the V-EQ4 is to this preset. With the Load control fully counterclockwise, the gain controls in four EQ stages are centered. Turning up Load makes several simultaneous changes; the screenshot below shows settings when the Load control is fully clockwise.
More Load boosts at 100 Hz to give the kick more bottom end, cuts at 680 Hz to keep the mids under control, boosts at 3.3 kHz to bring up the kick’s beater sound and bite, and adds lots of gain at 6.8 kHz to emphasize percussive transients. These changes can help make the kick more prominent, even when playing back over laptop speakers or other systems with compromised audio (like smartphones). When your ears hear the kick transient and beater, your brain processes that as “kick drum,” even though there may not be much low-frequency energy.
The Gate macro-control adjusts the range of level reduction in Slot 1’s AudioTrack Gate, so turning the control clockwise ends the kick’s decay sooner, which tightens the sound. The Xtra macro-control handles two functions. When fully counterclockwise, it turns off the second parallel path that incorporates the AudioTrack compressor. Turning the control clockwise mixes in the desired amount of compressed sound.
There are several potential substitutions for the AudioTrack Gate. The SSL E-Channel and SSL G-Channel include a gate, which can switch to serving as an expander for a smoother, as opposed to gated, decay. You can also take advantage of these channel strips’ compression and/or EQ at the input, although, of course, the AudioTrack can do this too (with a subtly different character and somewhat lower CPU consumption).
The Renaissance Channel is another option. While more CPU-intensive than AudioTrack, for some users, it’s a go-to plugin with which they’re very familiar. It also offers EQ and compression.
The V-EQ4 is unquestionably a unique EQ. Although you could substitute any four-band EQ, the results would not necessarily be the same. However, if you’re intrigued by this StudioRack chain but want to explore more in-depth EQ possibilities, the H-EQ Hybrid Equalizer’s flexible design offers multiple equalization curves, each with its own character.
Also, consider that for low-frequency EQ involving high gain or high Q settings, the Linear Phase EQ might be a good choice. The sound is more transparent, but the tradeoff is losing the charm of the V-EQ4’s modeled analog character, along with increased CPU consumption.
For the parallel split’s compression, AudioTrack does the job, and it’s a very efficient plugin. But compression is so subjective—you might prefer an aggressive, slamming sound like the dbx 160 Compressor/Limiter. The SSL E-Channel and SSL G-Channel strips are also favorites on drums, partly because of their compression characteristics.
Applying Quick BD
It’s probably fastest to start with the Gate and Xtra macro controls fully counterclockwise and dial in the desired timbre with the Load control. Then, re-visit the Gate, and Xtra controls to tweak the sound further.
The first audio example starts with four different, unprocessed kick drums and then repeats this series three more times. The first repeat has the Load control up about a third of the way. Load is up two-thirds for the next repeat, and the final repeat has the Load control up full.
The second audio example uses the Quick BD with mixed drums. The first measure has no processing, the second measure turns up Load about 10%, the third measure has 20% Load, and the fourth measure has 30% Load. Mixed drums require a somewhat lighter touch than just slamming the kick, but the results speak for themselves.
Musician/author Craig Anderton is an internationally recognized authority on music and technology. He has played on, produced, or mastered over 20 major label recordings and hundreds of tracks, authored 45 books, toured extensively during the 60s, played Carnegie Hall, worked as a studio musician in the 70s, written over a thousand articles, lectured on technology and the arts (in 10 countries, 38 U.S. states, and three languages), and done sound design and consulting work for numerous music industry companies. He is the current President of the MIDI Association. www.craiganderton.org.
Want more on mixing drums? Check out our 11 steps to mixing drums like a pro!
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