Creating Kick Drums Using Massive
With the emphasis on low end in modern electronic music, producers are always looking for new ways to create heavy kick and bass elements to build a solid foundation for their tracks. Here, we’ll go back to basics and build a blown out 808-style kick from scratch using NI’s Massive. Keep in mind that in order to hear the low frequency elements outlined in this article, you’ll need a solid pair of speakers or headphones.
To get started, you may want to program a drum pattern to give some musical context while you’re dialing in the sound. It’s fine to program the sequence using a simple factory drum kit.
Next, cut and paste your kick pattern into a sequence on a new track, and open Massive. Load up a sine wave in Oscillator 1 (OSC1) by clicking the dropdown menu, and move the Wt-Position knob all the way to the left so that we’re hearing pure fundamental. If you adjust the note of the kick pattern in the track to a low (but audible) pitch, you should be hearing solid sub bass.
Generally, the tempo and genre you’re working in will dictate how to set the overall decay of your kick drum sound. Since we’re thinking in terms of a blown out southern trap kick, the decay will be relatively long. To tailor the length of the kick drum properly, set a relatively long Release using envelope four (4 Env), which is set by default to control the volume curve of the sound.
Once the kick is filling the rhythmic space correctly, it’s time to add some punch. The low end is sitting pretty well, but we need some high frequency information to solidify the rhythm of the kick, and help it sit in the mix. The classic 808 approach to doing this is pitch modulation. Envelope three (3 Env) can be routed to modulate the pitch of OSC1. To route it, click the blue crosshairs to select 3 Env, then click on the empty square just below the pitch box in OSC1.
We’ll start high, and drop the pitch low with lightning speed to add a firm snap to the kick. Set the modulation range to an octave or two by clicking and dragging the number in the adjacent box up in semitones. Once that’s in place, on envelope three (3 Env), drop the Sustain to zero and begin to pull in the decay until the pitch drop is barely audible, and turns into a quick snap. Take a moment to check the kick in context against any other melodic elements in your track. If you are hearing overlaps in adjacent notes, go to the Voicing tab in the center section, and click “Monophon” to only allow one note to sound at a time.
From here, we’ll add treatment to the kick to give it more presence so it knocks harder and sits properly in the mix. One great way to do this is to add saturation. Massive has some killer audio effects, which can be found under FX1 and FX2. Click the dropdown menu (which by default, should say “None”) and select Brauner Tube. The term “tube” is meant to refer to tube saturation, not unlike some of your favorite guitar amps and compressors. Dial in the Dry/Wet and Drive to a suitable level. Remember that going overboard on the drive will result in loss of low end and overall definition. If you want some of the elements of heavy drive, try working the Dry/Wet until you have a good balance of clean lows and grit up top.
Here’s where my kick landed after adding some processing:
Once the kick has the character we’re looking for, it’s time to take it up a notch with some plugin processing. One thing we can do to add punch is use compression to smooth out the sound and add extra vibe. A great compressor for drums in Ableton Live is Glue Compressor, which is an emulation of a classic analog console compressor. Extend the Attack time to allow for the appropriate amount of punch, and compensate using the Makeup gain. If you wish to customize your sound further, consider using a saturator for more grit, or an equalizer to punch up the low end. Remember not to go overboard on adding bass; it’ll eat your headroom and leave your track falling flat. Remember: a punchy track is a balanced track.
Here’s my kick with added compression:
And with the rest of the drums:
Now that your kick is sounding right, it’s time to experiment with rhythms, melodies, and context. The fun thing about a sound like this is that it can fulfill the duties of a kick drum, bass synth, or both. If you’d like to pair it with a short mid range “punch” kick, feel free to ease up on the attack or add a compressor sidechained to the kick to duck the sub bass and make room for the other low end elements.