Build Your Kick Drum With A Signal Generator


Have you ever finished you tracking session, or even been given a session and found that the kick drum is lacking a solid ‘thump’ tone when it is already too late to record again? Instead of reaching for your sample library, try this technique instead.

The basic principal of this production technique is that we will create the missing frequencies using an in-built Pro Tools signal generator plug-in, and then layer them on top of the original sound to get a much fuller kick which is more likely to benefit your mix.

The signal generator by itself will only produce a constant tone at the designated frequency, so we will need to restrict the tone to only play when the original kick is present.

Let’s have a listen to the kind of result we will be achieving within this tutorial:

Here is our original kick drum sample which is lacking a thump:

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And here is the signal after we have applied a 50Hz signal to it:

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Creating The Signal Generator

First of all we will need a track to play out the signal, we will be using a mono auxiliary input track. Navigate to Track > Create Track and then select a single mono Aux Input.

Quick Tip: Select your Kick drum track prior to creating your auxiliary input, this will ensure that the newly created track will be placed directly to the right of the original recording.

Next we will insert the signal generator to our Auxiliary Input track, just as you would apply any other effect, navigate to Plug-in > Other > Signal Generator.


Now of course we do not want this constant signal throughout the entire session so will need to mute it while the kick drum is not present. The control of this sound will come from a ‘Gate‘ plug-in which will be inserted after the signal generator, we will use the one that comes standard with Pro Tools known as ‘Expander / Gate Dyn 3’ which can be found under the ‘Dynamics’ sub-menu of the plug-in inserts.

For now bypass the signal generator plug-in to kill the tone.

Triggering The Signal Generator

Now we have the signal generator under control, we need to tell it when we would like it to play out. The first step in doing this is to route our original kick signal down an auxiliary send.

Navigate to the mix window and click in an empty send space on the original Kick Drum track, you will then need to choose an available bus to route to, Bus 1.L is available within this example session so we will use that. After clicking on the bus you will be presented with the standard auxiliary send controls; you should bring the fader up to zero (unity) and to also ensure that the sound is being sent PRE fader, this will ensure that it still does its job regardless of whether the track is muted or not.

Now that we have our ‘trigger’ signal routed and ready to be received elsewhere, we need to head back to our gate plug-in to set our trigger input, this is known as the ‘key input’.

After opening the gate plug-in which we loaded earlier, we will need to input our kick trigger sound or ‘Key Input’ we will do this by clicking the drop down menu next to the key symbol and then selecting Bus 1.L as shown below.

This has set the input signal but to actually active it we also need to activate the small key symbol in the top right hand corner of the plug-in as well.

Providing that your gate settings are satisfactory, now when you play back the session you should only hear bursts of the signal generator when the kick drum is present.

Quick Tip: Take care when setting the threshold, ratio and range settings to ensure the signal is fully muted when the kick isn’t playing.

Tuning The Signal

As stated earlier, the plug-in will load a 1KHz tone by default which is no real use in working with Kick Drums, the brilliant thing about using this technique however is that we can tune the signal generator to wherever the recording is lacking. As a general rule of thumb, if you require more ‘thump’ from your kick drum then set it to around 50Hz although sometimes your bass may fit better in this area so adjust to what works best.

Final Fine Tunings

As a final touch to this production method you may want to adjust the attack and decay values of the gate to match the rhythm and timing of your original recording, apart from that just blend your new signal in to taste and enjoy a fresh sounding Kick Drum.


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