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Matching sub bass to song key
Old 4 weeks ago
  #1
Gear Nut
 

Matching sub bass to song key

Hey all - not a newbie, so bear with me on this one:

All of us have certain workflows - ways we go about getting certain sounds, etc, and today I would love to get a constructive conversation going about how you all go about layering your kick drums with sub frequencies.

In particular I am interested to know if you choose the key of the song, or the 3rd, or 5th, when, why, why not, etc...

As for me, I will usually side chain a sine wave with a gate and have my kick drum trigger the gate to open - I adjust the attack and release to taste.

How low do you go? When, when not, why, different genres, etc...

What is your method, plugins, effects, etc...GO WILD. I am very interested!

Hope to hear from you.

Cheers,

Philipp
Old 4 weeks ago
  #2
Gear Maniac
 
open_source's Avatar
 

I don't tune kicks to the key of the song. I pick a kick that sounds good and then sidechain/EQ around it.

All of that kick tuning is total nonsense. If your song is in the key of A, and you pick a kick that is in the key of A... all good.

What happens when the next chord is a Bb? Your kick is A, but your sub is Bb. You going to go through and retune your kick for every chord change? No, that would sound terrible. That's what sidechaining is for. Pick a kick that suits the feel of the song.

Cymbals are inharmonic sounds. They are noisy and out of tune. Still sound great in a song. I look at the kick drum as that type of percussion. It's more about feel than actual notes. When it comes to live drums, some people tune their toms to certain pitches, but again what happens when you play in a key that's a 1/2 step off from those tunings? Suddenly that doesn't make any sense at all.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #3
Gear Nut
 

@ open source,

Thanks for your post - very informative. I get what you say about a song's key modulating and that choosing one kick sub frequency is difficult.

I produce music in the vein of Tycho, Boards of Canada, and Ulrich Schnauss. Those producers are masters at getting their kick's low end to sit perfectly in a song.

I don't think choosing a musical sub frequency to fit the track is nonsense, though I am with you that it is very difficult to do and for the average listener an inaudible (or at least negligible) part of a song.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #4
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Owen L T's Avatar
No, it's not nonsense; yes, a fair number of people do it; no, most songs don't have an A chord and a Bb, but if they do, then a kick with a strong fundamental at C would fit better with, say A minor and Bb major than one tuned to C#. It all depends on context; a short, acoustic kick, may have no discernible fundamental, but that doesn't mean that some tunings might gel better than others.

If the chord structure of the track is fairly standard, then there very likely will be some common tones. So, yeah, if the song is in A, then tuning the kick's fundamental to 55 hz is a good place to look, especially if you're synthesising some of the kick's low end. A useful way of checking compatibility is to dial in a basic sine synth patch, and play, say, a quarter note low A throughout a cycle of your chord progression. If it sounds like it fits harmonically all the way through, then it'll definitely fit as the fundamental to which your kick descends. If there's an obvious clash, then it MIGHT still work if the sustain portion of the kick is fairly short ... but 9 times out of 10, unless dealing with complex chord changes, there will probably be another pitch that fits better overall. If there is no real sustain to the kick, then it's much more of a feel thing - worth tuning up a bit and down a bit, just to see if it settles better, or not.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
Gear Maniac
 
open_source's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Owen L T View Post
no, most songs don't have an A chord and a Bb, but if they do, then a kick with a strong fundamental at C would fit better with, say A minor and Bb major than one tuned to C#. It all depends on context; a short, acoustic kick, may have no discernible fundamental, but that doesn't mean that some tunings might gel better than others.

Go to a piano, low register, play the notes A,Bb,C all at the same time. What does that sound like? In terms of theory and actual sound, I can't agree with that, because its logic is flawed. The only intervallic possibilities present there are going to cause mud in a low register (m3rd, m2nd, M2nd). If you scored a string part with the basses and cellos using any of those combinations, you'd get a muddy effect, which can be effective if it's intended and a logical part of the overall orchestration, but it would have to be handled carefully in a general sense.

Every time I see people talk about this subject, they end up grasping at straws trying to justify their choices in terms of musical theory. I'm not saying don't ever tune your kick up or down, but choosing the kick based purely on tonality is not going to be useful the second you change chords. If you're doing some techno or drone music that never changes the fundamental, then sure, that actually makes sense in that case.

The other thing that isn't being considered here, especially with synthesized kicks, is that the noise and upper timbral material in the kick is as important, if not more important, than what the fundamental of the kick is, as far as how it sits in the mix. If you have a prominent low midrange element (bass or synth), then a more sinusoidal kick will be less in the way than one with a more midrange'y sound. Does that mean you should make up an arbitrary rule "use sine'y kicks with midrange'y sounds"? No, because that doesn't work all the time either. Use your ears and listen for what actually sounds like a musical combination, or what gives it a particular feel that you like.

Also, why wouldn't a song have A and Bb type chords in it at the same time? They're natural to Dm, Fmajor, or modes like C mixolydian, etc. Also, in styles like metal and techno it's very common to use half-step relationships between chords and in the bass lines. It's very common in music that has any type of harmonic movement that a static kick drum will quickly become strangely associated with the harmonies above it. If you're in the key of F, and you use a Gm chord, you're actually going to be stuck with a Gm7/F chord if your kick remains on F. Now how would you score that chord? You probably wouldn't put the F right under the G in the lower registers, because that will give you some beating. You can't avoid it, unless you use sidechaining.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
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Owen L T's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by open_source View Post
Go to a piano, low register, play the notes A,Bb,C all at the same time. What does that sound like? In terms of theory and actual sound, I can't agree with that, because its logic is flawed. The only intervallic possibilities present there are going to cause mud in a low register (m3rd, m2nd, M2nd). If you scored a string part with the basses and cellos using any of those combinations, you'd get a muddy effect, which can be effective if it's intended and a logical part of the overall orchestration, but it would have to be handled carefully in a general sense.

Every time I see people talk about this subject, they end up grasping at straws trying to justify their choices in terms of musical theory. I'm not saying don't ever tune your kick up or down, but choosing the kick based purely on tonality is not going to be useful the second you change chords. If you're doing some techno or drone music that never changes the fundamental, then sure, that actually makes sense in that case.

The other thing that isn't being considered here, especially with synthesized kicks, is that the noise and upper timbral material in the kick is as important, if not more important, than what the fundamental of the kick is, as far as how it sits in the mix. If you have a prominent low midrange element (bass or synth), then a more sinusoidal kick will be less in the way than one with a more midrange'y sound. Does that mean you should make up an arbitrary rule "use sine'y kicks with midrange'y sounds"? No, because that doesn't work all the time either. Use your ears and listen for what actually sounds like a musical combination, or what gives it a particular feel that you like.

Also, why wouldn't a song have A and Bb type chords in it at the same time? They're natural to Dm, Fmajor, or modes like C mixolydian, etc. Also, in styles like metal and techno it's very common to use half-step relationships between chords and in the bass lines. It's very common in music that has any type of harmonic movement that a static kick drum will quickly become strangely associated with the harmonies above it. If you're in the key of F, and you use a Gm chord, you're actually going to be stuck with a Gm7/F chord if your kick remains on F. Now how would you score that chord? You probably wouldn't put the F right under the G in the lower registers, because that will give you some beating. You can't avoid it, unless you use sidechaining.
For one thing, I specifically talked about this in the context of synthesising the low-end of the kick - as in, where I said "especially if you're synthesising the low end of the kick". Many people layer their kicks, with one layer being the sub. There are many synth plug-ins specifically for generating this low-end layer.

I also specifically talked about the kind of kick where the tuning would be less important.

Nothing in my post resembled anything like saying "choose your kick entirely on the basis of its tuning".

There was no "grasping at straws". Nor did my hypothetical example include any instance of an A, Bb and C playing all at once. What I DID say was that in a track which had an A minor chord and a Bb major chord, a kick with a fundamental frequency of C would likely sit better than one with a fundamental of C#. Which is pretty basic. And true.

If a track revolved around an F major to G minor, and my kick was tonal, I might well look at having its fundamental at D, or C. Just not C#. Nowhere did I say it had to be the same as the key of the song. Just that, the more tonal the kick, the more likely it's going to be a good idea to find a fundamental that fits harmonically.

Do metal tracks frequently use long 808 style kicks? No. Okay then. Is a lot of pop, dance, hip hop and other commercial music based around fairly simple, diatonic progressions like, oh I V vi IV? Yes. Okay then.

Tuning the low end of sustained kicks, with a discernible fundamental, is like tuning any other musical element of a track.

My post was 100% sound advice. Your attack of it, not so much.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Nut
 

Thanks for your input so far!

I was hoping, rather than getting too much into why or why not you tune a sub kick frequency, we could discuss how you all approach the generation of the sub, i.e. what plug-ins you use, effects, tips, tricks, EQ's that work better for this, etc...
Old 3 weeks ago
  #8
Gear Maniac
 
open_source's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Owen L T View Post
Nothing in my post resembled anything like saying "choose your kick entirely on the basis of its tuning".
I never said you said this specifically. I'm surprised you reacted that way. I said it's often suggested to do this. Relax.

Quote:
There was no "grasping at straws". Nor did my hypothetical example include any instance of an A, Bb and C playing all at once.
You're interpreting my post wrong. You didn't say play all three notes at once, I did. The point is that if you do, you'll hear the relationship you're describing, which is still muddy. Of course C# is going to be more muddy, but the relationship you described isn't worlds better.

Quote:
My post was 100% sound advice. Your attack of it, not so much.
It really isn't though. Also, you took what I said as things I've commonly heard and interpreted them all as a personal attack on your post. It wasn't meant that way. It's all about what the kick sounds like in relation to the other material, not the theory involved, which was my original point. It's not going to do any good to try and tune the kick to specific pitches based on theory. You could literally use the C# example and it could sound better than using C as the root of the kick, because that's how music works. It's all sound and feel, context. Why could the C# work better? Because the harmonics of the kick above that C# might not all be harmonic multiples of the C#. Actually, most of them will be likely be inharmonic.

Quote:
I was hoping, rather than getting too much into why or why not you tune a sub kick frequency, we could discuss how you all approach the generation of the sub, i.e. what plug-ins you use, effects, tips, tricks, EQ's that work better for this, etc...
What you are asking for is not really practically useful, tbh. I'm not being insulting. One technique will work for one situation and not the other. What kind of waveform are you using to generate your sub? Sine, saw, square, something in between? All of those are going to distribute harmonics differently. A kick is going to sit differently depending on what combination you are using. One technique is to use lowpass filters on more complex waveforms rather than starting with a sine for your sub. Lowpassing square or saw waves, for example.

So the real answer here is to learn to hear the midrange, and listen for the overlap of frequencies between your kick and sub. Generally speaking, if you have a "subby" sub, then you could run into issues trying to also use a "subby" kick because there's going to be frequency masking. Sidechaining can help to alleviate this, but the result in that case will be more down to the "click" of the kick. Let's say your sub/bass is occupying 35-80Hz'ish, and your kick is somewhere around 60Hz, you could notch out a few dB of 60Hz in the sub so that the fundamental of the kick cuts through a little more and is less masked.

There is no single EQ(s) that is/are good for generating subs or kicks. Again, it's all about listening to what your starting point is and what you have to work with. Anything can work. You can and should use EQ where you hear that it's necessary, and also use saturation if you would like to color the sound of either the kick or sub in a particular way, but that just comes from experience and if you can't hear issues in the overlap then none of the other advice means very much. I'm personally not fond of purely sine tone subs because they go missing when you play the track back through a laptop or speakers that can't generate such low frequencies. You need harmonics of some kind so that you can hear it at least somewhat across any kind of playback device.

As far as plugins go, any softsynth or hardware synth will work. I don't tend to synthesize my own kick drums as that is a long and tedious process. In terms of how low a sub will go, keep in mind that many speakers have a lower cutoff of 40Hz. Much lower than that and you're getting into the territory of feeling the sub more than hearing it anyway, as you are approaching the lower range of human hearing. You can go that low, but again you might want to try some light saturation of some kind so that you get some upper harmonics that will allow the sub to be heard more within the midrange.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #9
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The big fail on this is Drums do not contain a simple sine wave at a single pitch. Simply open your wave view and you wont see a perfect waveform on any of the mics, especially when that contain noise like cymbals and snares. Maybe if you're into rap music using a triggered pitch to produce the Bong tone of a kick drum to make up for the lack of a good bass player. But if you're going through all that trouble, simply convert it to a midi track and choose from any kind of sampled drum tone in the library you want. You can do it with all the drums in fact and the only thing human left is the intent of the performer. Even his timing can be corrected using quantization.

My advice is when the drum tone sucks fix the source of the problem. If the drums sound punk ass tune them properly, get better heads, better drums, better mics, better preamp, better room, better room treatment, Fix whatever is driving you try and fix the problem after its been recorded and you be that much closer to perfection. Never assume recording sound great because they are loaded with magic tricks. Its actually just the opposite. Magic tricks used to fix problems should be the rarest of all things a good engineer does is he's worth being paid.

Enhancement of an excellent recording is a different thing all together. I use the analogy of a pretty woman. They'll look great with or without makeup. A pig is a pig with or without makeup. Any trained ear can tell the difference. I think the reason so many try and use audio tricks to improve audio is for multiple reasons. bad musical performance is one. Cheap gear poorly maintained is another. Plain old laziness prepping for recording and lacking the tracking skills is another biggie. not knowing how to properly mix when you have something to work with is likely just as large. Personally I hate having to use gimmicks to fix problems I know are my own failings. If I know my drum tones suck I know its my own fault failing to take the time to get the best tones. If I know I did everything I could and its still not good enough then maybe the mix has other issues I'm missing, other instruments may sound larger then life pushing me to make the drums match. One thing for sure there are multiple ways to skin a cat and you need to be expert at all of them to get the job done sometimes. I just don't like having to constantly fake a tone that should rightfully be there to begin with.

For the OP, the first thing I'd suggest before using any tricks is make sure your drum mics are in phase. When drums lack bass and sound like ash cans, you can bet dollars for donuts your overheads are likely out of phase with the kick and making it sound paper thin. magnify your audio in track view where a single kick note can be seen clearly, then compare the peak of the kick drum to the peak captured on the overheads and snare mic. They all need to be in phase or you'll be banging your head against the walls trying to make the drums sound fat. Using EQ will be like playing musical chairs. You can EQ one drum solo, then the problem moves to another drum. You'll be chasing that phase problem around like trying to stomp on a cockroach till you take the time to shift tracks and put those peaks dead center. If you use allot of mics you wont be able to fix all phase problems, but your kick and snare are usually the biggest issues. The higher frequency drums and cymbals rarely produce as many problems and if they do simply move your mics while monitoring the sound in mono headphones till the hollowness disappears and the mics produce maximum bass tones.

Once they're in phase you'll have totally different results using other tools like compression and EQ. You shouldn't have to resort to triggered sine wave to get decent sounding drums but even if you do you'll likely need to use less because the raw drum tone can be mixed in at a much higher percentage and still sound great.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Princeton.Verb View Post
Thanks for your input so far!

I was hoping, rather than getting too much into why or why not you tune a sub kick frequency, we could discuss how you all approach the generation of the sub, i.e. what plug-ins you use, effects, tips, tricks, EQ's that work better for this, etc...
The re-inforcement of a kick's low end did start out with engineers using, say, a continuous sine wave of 50 hz, playing throughout the track, then gating the input of that track to the kick drum.

It's still pretty easy to go that route, but there are so many great, light-weight tools now available to do this, that even in a DAW it seems kind of a faff - and limited in terms of being able to adjust things like pitch on the fly until it sits just right.

The cheapest option is Punch-BD by Rob Papen. Like all of them, it allows you to stack several sample layers (and includes samples), but it's the synthesis element of it that I use most. There are a few flavours, and the controls might be a little basic for 2019, but ... I feel there are enough options to get the job done, without too many distracting bells and whistles.

https://www.robpapen.com/Punch-BD.html

Personally, I prefer working with a go-to sampler - NI's battery - for all the character of the kick - which I think of as everything above 80-ish, and then something else to dial in some controlled (and, yes, one way or another, in tune) low-end extension. This really allows you to play with the tail of the kick - specifically, how long and how low - so that it anchors the track, and fills exactly as much of the gap as you want it to.

Because everything I do is programmed, it's always on a separate MIDI track - usually with a pretty slow attack, so that the sub-weight begins to bloom when the character layer(s) of the kick start to fade. So, an attack of 30 to 50 ms. And sometimes moved back in the grid a few ms - at that point, it's as much to do with whether there is some phase-cancellation or reinforcement with the upper layer. (The sub-layer may have a pitch decay on it, and therefore have some overlap in the 100-500 range, and a ms or two either way has pretty much the same effect as if you adjust the phase between an inside/outside mic on an actual kick. Which is, to say: sometimes a nudge just makes the combined kick sound fuller, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's always worth seeing which of the two it is.)

A slightly more exciting, and slightly more expensive, option is D16 group's PunchBox - which is also all about the kick. But as well as some more vanilla sin-wave low-end, they include the kick drum modules from their excellent modelled 808 and 909 plugins. I think if this had been around earlier, then I'd have bought this and not bothered to look at anything else.

https://d16.pl/punchbox

There's also Sonic Academy's "Kick" which allows you to draw in different points on the pitch and decay envelopes - but, honestly, I find that kind of distracting. If it's there, I want to d**k around with it. But I know it's pointless - so I don't use the SA plugin.

So, yeah: that's what one random GS who does use these tools does.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #11
Gear Nut
 

Hey Owen, fantastic post! Thanks for sharing your workflow. I produce electronic music in the vein of Tycho, Boards of Canada and Ulrich Schnauss.

I have a great drummer who I work and record with. He plays over my productions. We get a great kit recording - my interest in creating a steady, punchy, sub low end is to fill out the kit so it has more bottom in a predominately electronic arrangement...so while maintaining realism with a real human drummer is my ultimate goal, I also want the kit to sit as perfectly in the mix as possible...and to my ears, nailing that sub bass sound is a big part of that.

I do boost in the sub-60Hz (around 45 to 60 Hz) region of the acoustic kick track, but, as I am dealing with a real kick drum and drummer the sub is not always as steady and punchy as I would like...hence my ever growing interest in how other producers do it...

Will have a look at Punch Box!

Thanks again for your post and if anything else comes to mind please share it! Cheers-
Old 3 weeks ago
  #12
Gear Maniac
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Princeton.Verb View Post
as I am dealing with a real kick drum and drummer the sub is not always as steady and punchy as I would like...hence my ever growing interest in how other producers do it...
Why isn't it steady though? Wouldn't that be down to minor discrepancies in timing from the real kit performance?

That would mean that you'd have to edit each sub kick and align them manually. It's a tedious process, but that's how you'd get what you wanted.

Am I understanding this right? Are you trying to layer a sub kick under the acoustic kick?
Old 3 weeks ago
  #13
Gear Nut
 

Yes, that is my intention...

It is not always steady because sometimes the kick drum is not played with the same intensity...the variations are very slight and certainly musical...however, for my genre of music I let the cymbals do the ''musical'' stuff and look to the low end to be steady in the way only an electronic kick normally would be. Again, this would not be practical or necessary for a folk rock band sound, etc, but for my genre it is.

So far I have had good luck with using a sine wave with a gate that is triggered by the acoustic kick. If you play with the ADSR settings you can set the sub's attack and decay pretty well...
Old 3 weeks ago
  #14
Gear Maniac
 
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But that still doesn't solve your issue. The issue is the dynamics of the acoustic kick. The sub's dynamics could easily stay perfectly consistent. All you are changing with the gate is the length of the sub notes. What you want is to have the acoustic kick as isolated as possible, then use compression or possibly even slight limiting so that it's as consistent as possible, matching with the perfect consistency of the electronic sub more closely.

Another option is to high-pass the acoustic kick more, so that the sub frequencies truly are being handled by the sub kick. Then maybe some slight compression on the acoustic kick. That way the dynamic changes in the acoustic kick don't interact with the sub quite as much, and the light compression will keep the volume in the midrange of the acoustic kick more consistent. You could possibly then group both of them on a parallel channel where you saturate them or compress them to glue them together even more, then blend that back in as a 3rd "kick group" channel.

Another option is to embrace the human performance side of things and group the sub and the acoustic kick on a channel that is the "overall kick", where again I'd use a compressor or very light peak limiting (using the acoustic kick on a silent sidechain track as the input to both grouped kicks) to tame the peaks and glue them together a bit. You lose a bit of the sub consistency but they'll play together more naturally based on what the human drummer is doing. That's more down to if you want the music to have more of an electronic feel (uber consistent) or natural performance feel.
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