Using FM Synthesis for Heavy Kick Drums (Part II)

Whenever I start a kick drum, I open VGM Music Maker (can be found here). VGM Music Maker is a tracker-type program for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and can import patches from Sega Genesis games. The Genesis has a Yamaha 4-Operator FM chip and the patches from this system are compatible with some Yamaha 4-op synths like the DX100 or TX81z.

Building The Kick

I first open the instruments tab and create a new patch. I start by modifying the algorithm (change to Alg 1) anVGM Tracker Empty Instrumentd the carrier (Operator 4). First I set the volume level to 14 (loud enough that it doesn’t clip). OP-4 will act as the “bulk”. I leave it’s frequency setting at 1. Other than that, I give it a medium-length decay (SR setting). Too short of a decay would keep the bulk from expanding in the lower frequencies. Even though in the end the kick will have a short decay, it’s best to keep it at a medium- at around 12.

For Operator 2 (the first to modulate the carrier), I either set the MULT setting at 1 or 2, depending on what sound I’m looking for. In this example, I set it to 2 which gave the kick a bit of a hollow sound. OP-2 acts as the “punch” (the frequencies between the bulk and the snap). To give it that punchy characteristic, I set the decay much shorter than OP-4. I put quite a bit of an emphasis on the punch because it gives the drum the most presence… so I normally set the Total Level OP-2 to around 26.

The next operator, OP-3 modulates OP-2 and OP-4. OP-3 supplements both the punch and the snap. I set the Total Level less than OP-2 but enough that you can still hear it clearly. The decay will also be less than OP-2. The MULT setting of this operator should be higher than OP-2 but a bit lower than OP-1.

OP-1 is the final operator to modify, and it is the “snap” part of the kick drum. But before I modify it, I have to change the feedback settings on the patch. You just have to toy around with the FB amount and the Total Level of OP-1 to get the desired amount of snap.  The MULT setting should be set to a high number, like around 7 to 11. Depending on how much snap you want, you should also play around with the decay setting… less decay time in snap brings out more punch.

Finally the kick patch is finished! I then start playing a note on the tracker and finding out which note would be the best for the kick to start at. In this example, I chose F-4. This decision is entirely up to you, and different frequencies change the sound of the kick drum. I put the note at every 8th marker (you don’t need to do this, you could just put one note at the start of the pattern, but I like hearing the kick drum constantly when I press play).

It normally sounds like this.

But it doesn’t sound like a kick drum yet….

That’s where portamento down (2xx tracker effect) comes into play. If you’re familiar with chiptune trackers like Famitracker, you probably already know about this effect. The 2xx effect basically uses portamento to decrease the pitch of the instrument (1xx does the opposite). The “xx” stands for the speed of decrease in the pitch.VGM Tracker

In making our kick drum, I used a sharp pitch decrease (290) followed by a slower decrease (230). The sharpness of 290 creates a good snap while the quick change to 230 creates a good bulk. Play around with the 2xx effect and see which creates the best kick sound for you.

My kick drum ended up sounding like this after using the 2xx effect.

^How the kick looks like as a wave. It’s starting to sound like a good kick drum, but there’s a bit too much in the high end and not enough in the mid and lower frequencies.

Perfecting The Kick!

Here’s where I’d normally load the kick into a sampler and then add effects in order to “bulk up” the kick sound.

First run it through a compressor VST and then through a tube-amp simulator VST. Play around with the settings of both the compressor and the tube-amp simulator and find out which settings sound good to you.

Afterwards, EQ the signal to your taste. (Tip: If your kick is lacking in the low-frequency range, give it a boost around 60-100HZ. Also… tube-amp simulators can remove some of the high frequencies and impart a good boost to the mid- and low-frequencies. If the high frequencies sound stifled, give it a slight boost!)

This is how my kick looked like after running it through compression+tube-amp+eq. This is how it ended up sounding like.

Finally I maximize the kick drum in audacity. I do this by using the amplify tool in the effect column. I amplify the kick until the bulk of the kick drum is a bit above 0.9 dB (I let the “snap” portion of the drum get clipped- when doing this, select the “allow clipping” settings in the amplify effect box… never let the “bulk” portion clip!).

Afterwards, I normalize the sample and then amplify it again to 3.0dB. When that’s done, I give it a little fade-out around the end. The kick is finished!

This is how the final kick sounds like.

In my tracks I like to pitch the kicks up a little bit (around +1 or +2).

Here’s an example of the kick used in a track but with a higher pitch.

uhhhh thats it
you heard it on Grove Street!!

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