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How to create a realistic bass drum with a lifelike texture

Bass drum samples tend to sound more like samples than the proper way a bass drum should sound. So how can they be given a more lifelike texture?


Since the sampling boom of the 1980s, now such a long time ago, we have become used to mechanical drum tracks. So much so that many drummers sound more like drum machines than real players. But the time is ripe to return to a much more natural sound, the way drumming used to be in the pre-digital era, hopefully with a 21st century twist of some kind.

So let's start with the bass drum, or 'kick drum' if you prefer (Google seems to prefer 'bass drum'). Here is the bass drum that inspired this article...


This is from a guest performance on one of the results shows of Britain's Got Talent, a popular TV talent competition in the UK, masterminded by Simon Cowell. The band is The Wanted and the track is Chasing The Sun.

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Notice the bass drum at the beginning. This is definitely a bass drum with character. It sounds as though it was recorded live (though probably pre-recorded for the show) and is indeed a real drummer's foot pounding a real bass drum pedal beating a real bass drum. And if it actually is sampled, then a hearty 'well done' to the person responsible.

So what does this bass drum have that other bass drums do not have?

Well firstly it has the expected bass drum thud. There's nothing unusual about that; that's what we expect from a bass drum. And it has a click too - being able to record a bass drum with a click is an art that combines the skills of both drummer and engineer. But where a sampled bass drum with click would still sound mechanical, this one lives and breathes. There is a slight irregularity that is human rather than computed.

Also, there is the feeling of other sounds being mixed in there. I swear I can hear the swish of the bass drum pedal. I swear I can hear the squeak of the leather that connects pedal to beater. (If you can hear the rattle of a chain, then I respect your preference.) I can hear a squeaky metal bearing that needs lubrication. I can hear the rustle of the drummer's trouser leg against his sock, the rattle of the loose change in his pocket...

OK, this is moving into the realms of imagination. But sometimes it's the feeling that is of paramount importance, and I feel all of this for this particular bass drum.

Another featured of this bass drum is that it doesn't sound quantized. It sounds played. I tried to check this by measuring the time between beats, but I couldn't get an accurate enough view of the waveform to be sure. Still, it sounds played, and that's the important thing.

So in conclusion, it's a great bass drum sound and I like it. The bass drum might be a small component of the overall sound of a track, but attention to small details can be vitally important.

By David Mellor Thursday May 10, 2012