Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So You Wanna Be A DJ: Part 4

Hi everyone and welcome to 'So You Wanna Be A DJ: Part 4.' As we discussed in part 3 the importance of choosing the right sounds, and keeping it simple is a big deal. Now getting ready to start producing a track, let's get more into the basics of how to make those sounds come alive.

I mentioned kicks last time, and making them really break through your mix. Kicks are what make your fans move to the groove so its no small task selecting a kick sound and processing it properly. Firstly, choosing the sound. There are tons of libraries full of kicks and one-hits and samples out there and while some are better than others you can generally shape a great kick out of a mediocre sample with a little massaging. Again, it's important here to listen to your idols. Different types of kicks work for different styles of dance music. Electro goes great with a real knocky heady kick, trance is great over a pulsing urgent kick, and progressive minimal house [my latest affair] can really take off with a deep crisp kick that slices through the mix.
Say we're just looking for your classic four-on-the-floor propa house kick. This sound should be stated and clean while carrying enough weight to support the rest of your mix. So it's okay to end up changing your kick halfway through producing the track if you find that once you start threading layers through your tune, the kick's gone pear-shaped. I do it all the time.

Whoo... enough on the ideology on the god that is the kick drum! [lets get technical]

Once you've chosen your sound, you want to identify what needs to happen to the kick to get it throbbing. When starting out producing your own music, it's always a good idea to find a track that has the sound you're going for and put it into your sequencer right up against your track. Called reference mixing. Can't stress how invaluable reference mixing is.
The two basic tools you're most likely going to use on your kick is a Compressor and an EQ. I EQ first, then compress, so let's talk about Q'ing.

If you're using a real sampled bassdrum, like from a drum set, I almost always notch out 300 Hz by at least 5 db. Real kick drums just have a 'boxiness' to them in that range that tends to kill a mix. The best way to find out which frequencies are helping your sound and which ones are ugly is to boost one band of your EQ about 6-9 db and sweep through the frequencies top to bottom, noting the areas that are warm and sweet and which areas are harsh or unnecessary. And any time you're changing a sound, keep in mind, add with eq to CHANGE a sound and cut with eq to IMPROVE a sound. [says Confucius]. And as always, this is all just means to an end, so if you find that cutting 600 Hz but 24 db gets you the sound you want then by all means cut 600 Hz by 24 db. If it sounds good, it is good. BEWARE though, if youre using cheap computer speakers, it might sound like you need to boost the low end of the kick by 15 db or more until you hear the bass... if you play this at a club it could blow the subs, which makes for very unhappy promoters and even madder club owners. Thats where reference mixes can save your life.

COMPRESSION! oooh, compression. This can be a love hate kind of relationship. Keep in mind that kick samples might already be compressed to your liking which is great and might mean you dont have to get into this at all. But if you're a perfectionist like me you'll usually do the compressing yourself. Now compression is going to give your kick the width and the balls you'll need to knock over a dance floor and there are different theories on the best way to accomplish this. Lets just start with setting your compressor.

General rule of thumb, load up a compressor and turn the attack to the highest/longest setting and the release to the lowest/shortest. Now here's where there are different schools of thought. I like to squash the shit out of it at this point to make it very clear where the attack and release should be. so I'll set the threshold pretty low and the ratio high, somewhere around 6:1. Now bring your attack down/shorter slowly until you hear the kick lose its vigor and turn it back just a bit. And with the release, move that longer and longer until you hear it pump from one beat to the next. You want the next kick to fire right when the release from your first kick is finished. This will give you that classic pumping house kick that's o so tasty. Lastly re-adjust your threshold and ratio to settings that please you, and compliment the mix. There are now set rules here so go ahead and fly by your ears here.

And Im going to leave you with that because I've just reached 'reserve battery power' on my laptop and I'm nowhere near my power supply. But I hope you can use some of this knowledge to shape your kicks like the pros and really kill the crowds.


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1 comment:

dj tom swift said...

This is great information! I just stumbled upon your blog, but long time fan. I still give the 5x!2" Brave New World some spins for kicks!

Do you have any advice for compression/eq tips for jungle/breaks type kicks sitting in a mix with deeeeep bass?

I can usually get thumping 4/4 beats for house/progressive style sidechaining a bass with a kick, but with deep subs in a jungle track my kicks never stand out / punch through. Are kicks just there between 80 ~ 100 hz with out much punch/compression and the subs/bassline provide the umph.

For some reason anything I make just turns out crap.

I realize this post is a little old, but I just came across it and would love any tips you might have. Also, i realize it's always depends on the song/situation/frequencies.

Peace for Chicago,IL USA,
thomas swift