Kick Length

Short Version

Divide 60000 by the track BPM, then again by 2, to get half a beat in milliseconds. Use this information for Kick 2’s Pitch and Amplitude lengths. This is how short your kick should be per beat to avoid clashing with offbeat sub bass. This is as long as an 8th note.

Long Version

A great kick won’t necessarily make for a great track, but a bad kick will definitely break one, whether it’s a sample or from a dedicated kick plugin. In particular for this technique, interference between kick and offbeat bass can doom a good track too. Kick 2 offers powerful flexibility in timing and tuning kicks, but these techniques are applicable to other kick synthesis plugins. It also works with envelopes on kick samples too. Basically, we just need a tool that allows you to adjust the length of the kick, whether it be a volume envelope or a dedicated plugin.

The Numbers

There is a little bit of math involved in this technique, but nothing too complex. We want to calculate the length needed to fit the kick into the first half of each beat. The concept here is that the kick is far easier to sit pretty with an offbeat bassline if it only occupies the first half, which helps prevent issues such as phasing, where two equal and opposite frequency peaks cancel each other out to zero amplitude, and masking, an issue where a sound becomes difficult to hear with a stronger sound over the top.

Specifically, we want to solve this:

$$ \frac{\frac{60000}{BPM}}{2} $$

If the numbers intimidate you, that’s normal. Mathematics is difficult and down right undecipherable at times. There’s a few things going on, so lets break the formula down.

There are 60 seconds per minute, and 1000 milliseconds per second. This means we can multiply 1000 milliseconds by 60 seconds to get how many milliseconds fit into one minute: 60000ms. When we produce electronic music, the timing is fit to a Beats Per Minute value, or BPM. For example, a track set at 128BPM denotes 128 beats per minute. So, with these two values in mind, we want to divide 60000ms by the track BPM to calculate how long an individual beat (that’s the kick plus the three following sixteenths) will be.

Now for the denominator (the 2 underneath). Because we want the kick to only be audible for the first half of each beat, we divide whatever value we got earlier by 2, or half. This final value is now what we use to time the tail to play for just that half. So to recap, 60000ms per minute, divided by the BPM, divided by 2. This is also called an 8th note.

Kick 2 Setting

Consolidated audio showing the kick length and Kick 2 setting

To help make it clearer, here is the result in my DAW. In the top right of the waveform window of Kick 2, the kick’s amplitude is 203ms, which is close to the value found from the above equation. The waveform shows that it does not carry over into the second half of each beat, but ends before. Any offbeat bass can be inserted into the gap without the two parts clashing.

Final Thoughts

This design tip works well for driving trance or psychedelic trance where there is great emphasis on the offbeat bass, but overall is helpful for many genres. See the videos below for a psychedelic/goa approach to the technique, and for a perspective from artist deadmau5 on kick length and its role in electronic music.

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