Building A Massive Kick Drum Using SonicTransfer DrumStack

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House, Trance, Hiphop, Drum n Bass, Kick Drum Tutorial. Electronic music productions require strong kick drums. Percussive elements provide the foundation for these music genres and you must master them if you want to produce quality songs. The best way to take control of your drums is to build them yourself. This tutorial will give you the tools and information necessary to reach this goal. For this lesson you will need:

Anatomy of a Kick Drum

The house and trance kick drum is the most important drum for these genres and also one of the least understood. A good kick drum can be felt in the chest, has a noticable thump at the beginning, and has a low bass frequency tone at the end. Trance and house music vary the kick drum’s mixing relative to the other drums and the bass. However, the basic formula for creating a solid club-worthy kick drum is the same for all styles of dance music. The kick drum needs the following elements:

  1. A very short (5-30ms) mid-to-high frequency click sound. For this you can use a hihat, tambourine, rimshot, shaker, or another kick drum with the bass frequencies removed.
  2. A relatively short (300-600ms) low-to-mid frequency range punch sound. For this you can use a kick drum with a strong attack. You will also want to make room for the next sound (the tone) by removing the lowest frequencies of this sample. (So remove all frequencies below 30 Hz.)
  3. A longer (3-9 sec) sub bass tone. For this you can use a synthesizer-generated sine wave. Or, you can use a sample from the Roland 808 drum machine. In a pinch, you could also use another kick drum sound and remove all of the mid and high frequencies. It is incredibly important that you tune this element to match the key of your song. Also, you need to fade in this element over 50ms to 1 sec.

If you arrange your layers in this fashion, you will produce a kick drum with a quick attack and lots of punch that is shortly followed by a long sub bass tone that really thumps. Now that you know how a kick drum is layered, it’s time to build one for yourself.

Building the Kick Drum Part 1: MIDI Setup

You need to have SonicTransfer DrumStack installed into your Ableton LIbrary. If you don’t already have it, click here to download DrumStack. Once DrumStack is installed, browse to it in your Ableton Live Library. You can find it under Instruments -> Instrument Rack -> DrumStack. Click on the icon to the left of DrumStack and drag it onto an open area in the arrangement. This will create a new MIDI channel containing a new DrumStack. See the picture below for more information.

In order to hear your kick drum while you create it, you need to add some notes to your MIDI channel. First, you should rename your MIDI channel to drums. Then, click and drag your mouse to select the area from measure 1 to measure 2. Now press Ctrl+Shift+M to create a new blank MIDI clip. See the pictures below for more information.

Double-click on the new MIDI clip to view the piano roll editor at the bottom of the screen. Click and drag up on the horizontal divider bar to expand the piano roll editor so that you can see all of the available drum slots. Find the row labeled Slot 1 (Empty). Double-click inside the piano roll editor to create new notes at beat 1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 on the row labeled Slot 1 (Empty). See the picture below for more information.

Good! Now you have a MIDI clip that will trigger a four-on-the-floor kick drum loop. However, there is no sounds loaded into DrumStack yet. Read on to learn how to load samples into DrumStack.

Building the Kick Drum Part 2: Loading the Samples

You are now ready to create your own custom drum kit. For this lesson it is highly recommended that you use the SonicTransfer Kick Drum Sample Pack. If you don’t already have it, click here to download the Kick Drum Samples. Unzip the samples and drag them into your Ableton Live set on a new audio track. See the picture below for more information.

Double-click on the title on MIDI channel labeled drums to bring up the DrumStack interface. One nice feature of DrumStack is that you can drag audio directly from the arrangement into a slot on the Impulse. Try it out. Click on the short clip labeled click and drag it into the first slot of the bassdrum’s Impulse. Then, click on the other short clip labeled punch and drag it into the second slot of the Impulse. Lastly, click on the longer clip labeled Tone and drag it onto the third slot of the Impulse. See the picture below for more information.

Press play and listen to the layered sounds. You should hear the three samples playing simultaneously on every quarter note. But, they don’t blend very well yet. (NOTE: Now that you loaded up the Impulse with samples, you can safely remove the audio track containing your kick drum sounds.) Read on to learn how to make them sound great.

Building the Kick Drum Part 3: Sound Design

It’s finally time to start sculpting your new kick drum. You have three sounds loaded onto the bassdrum channel of DrumStack and now you have lots of controls to make them blend exactly how you want. First, mute the punch and tone samples. You can do this by hovering your mouse over the name of the slot and then clicking on the leftmost rectangle that appears. (NOTE: You can click the rightmost rectangle to solo a sample). See the picture below for more information.

Your click sound needs to be a very short pop. For this reason you should change the sample start position to 1.59ms. Also, set the decay to around 6.76ms. Lastly, turn the volume up to 10.3dB. You can get finer control over knobs if you hold Ctrl while you drag your mouse up and down. You can also type in an exact value using your computer keyboard after you click on a knob. See the picture below for more information.

Unmute the punch sample. The punch sound needs to be pretty short as well. It also does not need to hit the lowest frequencies. To fix this, you will need to use the filter to remove them. Click on the knob labeled Start to change the sample offset to 2.38ms. Then turn the Decay down to 300ms. Also, set the volume to 1.71db. Now it is time to cut out the low frequencies. Click on the button labeled Filter to turn on the filter. Find the drop-down box below the filter button and select HP 1 from the list. This means that a high pass filter is now removing frequencies below frequency specified by the knob labeled Freq. Rotate the Freq knob until it is set to 30.0Hz. See the picture below for more information.

Unmute the tone sample. The tone sounds need to be longer and a bit quiter. Also, it needs to fade in. Lastly, the pitch of the sample needs to match the pitch of your song. To make the fade in occur, click the button labeled Soft. To make it longer, set the Decay to 4.05s. Turn the volume down to -1.00db. Use the knob labeled Transp to adjust the pitch of the tone. For this lesson there is no song so you can leave the Transpose knob at 0st. See the picture below for more information.

To keep the kick drum layer from overpowering the other tracks, you should turn down the overall Impulse volume to -4.57db. See the picture below for more information.

Further Experimentation

Here are some other ideas for kick drum sound design:

  • Hard techno requires a distorted kick drum. For this effect, simply add another tone layer and turn on the button labeled Sat. Then turn up the knob labeled Drive. By leaving the original sub tone intact, you will have a more pleasing kick drum sound.
  • The Impulse has its own signal path for both MIDI and audio effects. Simply drag effect units directly to the right of the Impulse to add Live & VST effects to your individual drum sounds. (For example. this is a great way to add reverb exclusively to your snares.)
  • Instead of using Filter or Volume automation to cut out a kick drum, try using the Decay settings instead. It will leave all the punch of your kick sounds, but make room for everything else in your song.


Drum sound design is crucial for achieving professional music production results. With DrumStack and a good ear, you can make drum sounds that rock the dancefloor. I hope this inspires you to create your own kits and start producing truly original music.

A special thanks goes to Hertz SM for assistance with this tutorial.

Happy Producing!

Matt Sonic