I listen to a lot of beats. A lot. Either it's someone that is posting on IllMuzik or my own creations, I have beats coming out of my ears. Often times I hear the wrong types of sounds being used, such as the kick drum. I've heard a lot of people that use whatever kick they can find and just throw it into their mix because it sounds good. The problem is that even though it's a nice-sounding kick, it sounds terrible inside the mix. Let me explain:
1. Too Thin
This is a common occurrence because as I mentioned, most people will use a kick because it sounds tight on whatever drum loop they heard it on, but it sucks within the entire mix. If you were to listen to the drum break from "Impeach The President" this is what I mean.
The entire drum break is dope, and so is the kick - but if you take that kick and add it to YOUR mix then you might have a problem if you were to add in the snare from "Top Billin".
Do you see where I'm going with this?
What you need to do is beef up your kick and make it thicker. There are plenty of ways to do so, such as layering it with other kicks or just straight up EQ'ing it. Either way, a thin-sounding kick is usually not a good kick to use because it just doesn't sit well with most of today's productions.
2. Too Thick
The complete opposite is that often times your kick is too thick! Normally this is because everyone wants to have a "hard-hitting" beat, especially when it comes to the drum track. What most producers will do is not only fatten up their kick (or use a fat kick to begin with), but they'll add the famous 808 kick drum.
The 808 has been used tons of times, mostly in the past with old school songs. Back then, it was very common to use them and actually, if you didn't use them, your beat probably sucked. What's happened today is it's overused. The 808 is a great sounding kick, but once you layer it underneath another kick, it can be too thick for your track's purposes.
Kicks can be tricky to EQ because it still comes down to what you started with and how the kick actually sounds in its original form. This is why I rarely EQ my kicks, and instead I prefer to layer them in order to make them sound right. Once I layer them, that's when I'll EQ each kick individually - if needed. I find that it always boils down to finding the right kick and not relying on EQ or effects.
If you do use EQ on your kicks, use it sparingly because it's too easy to add too much or too little of bass or treble. There are some settings that you can use as a starting point, but as I mentioned, it's all about what the kick sounds like to begin with.
This is a good starting point:
- Band 1: +6dB at 100Hz
- Band 2: -10dB at 800Hz
- Band 3: +6dB at 1.5kHz
- Band 4: +6dB at 7.0kHz
Oh boy. Where do I begin? I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I find that a lot of Hip Hop producers get way out of control with compression. Compression is very powerful and useful, but it can very easily get out of hand. It's supposed to make your sounds better, but most often people misuse it and end up with wild results.
Taken from A Totally Different Way Of Understanding Compression, "This is the key to understanding compression; we squashed or lowered the loud volumes to match the lower volumes, then we increased the volume of the whole song back up." This means that with your kick drum, you can squash it down and then raise the volume up, so basically, your kick will be nice and thick.
The problem is that it will SOUND compressed. Take a listen to "Watch Out Now" and listen to how compressed their entire drum track is:
It's a great drum track and it sounds good, but it also sounds very compressed. Once again, compression is a great tool that you should definitely use - in moderation.
5. Doesn't Match Your Snare and Hat
Mainly the snare. Hats are an important part of a drum track, however the snare more so. What I tend to do when I'm trying to put together a drum loop is I'll go through my collection and find a nice sounding kick that will either fit the mood I want for this beat, or that fits the sample I'm using. What I do next is what matters the most because when I look for a snare, although I do the same thing, in the back of my mind I know it has to match the kick.
Many times I've gotten my kick and snare ready to go and then I'll start banging away at the pads to make my loop, but then I'll quickly realize that my snare sounds terrible with that kick, or vice versa. This is when I'll either find another snare to use, or find another to layer on top of the one I already have. It's not difficult, it's just about finding the right sounds.
This isn't rocket science, in fact, it's all about using common sense, and - your ears. It's like when DJ's will do a blend with some Hip Hop instrumental and throw an R&B acapella on top - most of the time it sounds terrible. Why? Because all they care about is if the two records match BPM's, when in fact they need to use their ears and hear if the records sound good together.
The same thing applies to the kick drum and if it needs to be tweaked, or left alone. Let your ears guide you!
Further Reading Related to Beat Making