LSDJ & You: Episode 9 – WAV Kicks and Volume Tricks

August 24, 2012 in LSDJ & You, Protips

Sorry for the suuuuuuuper long delay between articles.  I’ll do better, I swear.

For some reason I’ve been avoiding talking about WAV channel kicks, but this is something people still ask questions about, so I’ll try to demystify the topic a bit.  We’ll cover a few variations on WAV kicks and then discuss ways to maximize their volume and punch.

But Pulse Kicks are Louder, Yo!

The WAV channel is capable of going an octave lower than the pulse channels, and it is capable of producing smoother waveforms than the pulse channels, so you can get a lower, deeper, purer kick drum on the WAV channel.  (Not knocking pulse kicks, they can rock too.)  The problem with using a lower kick with a smoother waveform (like a sine or triangle) is that the volume is going to be quite a bit lower than a pulse kick.  So right off the bat, know that to compensate we’re going to need to lower the volume of the other channels.

I don’t want to be overly prescriptive.  How low you take those other channels is dependant on how loud and punchy you want your kick to be, but as a general rule, I am not going to recommend any volume above 9x.  For my own compositions, leads are generally around 6x to 7x (sometimes lower…) and arps are 4x or 5x (or, um, sometimes lower…or higher…).

It’s Sine Time!

The easiest way to get a nice, clean, thumpy kick on the WAV channel is to use a sinewave synth.  Set up a new WAV instrument.  Set the instrument to manual play and press select and up to go into the synth screen.  Dial in a sinewave synth with a volume of 40, as pictured below.

I chose a volume of 40 because it has an okay volume level and enough clipping (flattening of the top of the waveform, basically) to give it some thud, but still retain a smoother sinewave kind of sound.  If you go much over 60 it really starts to sound more and more like a square wave.  Sinewave kick at 40 is pretty much my go-to kick.  But just setting up the synth isn’t enough.  We need to talk about pitch and P commands…

The Big Kick Theory

The synth and volume settings you use give your kick its tone, but there are other factors that go into the overall sound and apparent volume of a kick patch.  The pitches you start and end your kick at, and the speed at which the kick does so, play big factors in the overall sound.

Basically, the higher in pitch a kick starts will give it a higher volume in the mix.  If you go too high it’s going to sound like a laser blip or something.  That may or may not be cool, depending on what you’re going for.  I usually pitch my kicks between C5 and G5 (or C6-G6 on older versions of LSDJ!)  Pitching the kick an octave or more higher can give you a harder (maybe more dance-y?) kick.  For now, I’m going to assume you guys like kicks like I like my women: pitched at C5.

First thing we need to do is set up a table with a P command.  This table will play every time the instrument is triggered, so set it up on the instrument screen, of course.  Here’s what I have set up for a kick that starts on C5:

Notice the tempo is the default 128 and I have a K command on line 5.  The K command at line 5 kills the kick after one tick on the phrase screen, so you can get the full range of the kick and have a different WAV instrument immediately following the kick.  (If you aren’t going to place an instrument on the step directly after the kick and want a longer, boomier kick, putting the K command on line B of the table will give you a kick 2 steps long on the phrase screen.

The P command – CE takes the kick to the lowest tone.  If you use too fast of a P command, the wave will wrap back around to the highest tone and you will hear a clicking sound at the end of your kick.

Note that the P command is dependant on the pitch your kick starts, the tempo of your song, and how low you want the kick to go.  The lower the kick goes, the deeper the bass quality of it, obviously, but if you want to increase the overall volume of the kick, use a less-severe P command and stop the kick at a higher tone.  (Higher pitches sound louder, natch.)  Play around with the P command settings while your kick plays and note the differences.

The sound clip below highlights 4 different kicks:  

  • The first is a sine kick at 40, pitched at C5 (C6 in older versions) with a P command taking it as low as possible without clicking. K on 5.
  • The second is a much harder sounding kick.  Sine at 60, pitched at C7 (C6 on older versions) with a P command that doesn’t go quite all the way down. K on 5.
  • The third is another sine at 40, pitched at E5 (C6 in older versions) with an E0 command. K on 5.
  • The fourth is the same sine at 40, but with the K command on B, going as low as possible without clicking.

These are followed by samples of the same kicks in the same order with a bassline and some noise channel.

Experiment and find what works for you.  If I’m recording I’ll usually use a nice deep kick at 40, because I know even though the volume will be a little lower, I can EQ and compress and make the kick stand out a bit more.  For a live show where you have a little less control over the sound (or even a web show) I’ve bumped my kick up to 60 or 70 and used a PE0 command for a louder, thumpier kick.  Seemed to work well.

So those are the basics of WAV kicks.  Just play around with the settings, try different lengths, pitches, WAV volumes.  Try square wave kicks!  Punch the volume up and try a kick with a zipper-y sounding trail off!  Try multiple P commands in the same table (start out really fast and then two steps down put in a slower P command to emphasize the low end of the kick, etc.)  Experiment.

WAV Kicks Need Volume Tricks (Part 1)

This is a big subject, so we can’t cover this topic in just one column, but a big part of really emphasizing your kick is to control the volume around the kick–not just on the WAV channel, but all the channels.  This means E commands, multiple copies of the same instrument at different volumes, maybe M commands.  This means tweaking and tweaking and tweaking.  And then tweaking some more.  Also, tweaking.

The basic idea is to try and mimic sidechaining by limiting the volume of other instruments when the kick plays.  A really simple way to do this is with your arps (you know, if you’re using arps) and bassline.

Instead of using an arp instrument with a steady envelope (i.e., 38) or an envelope that falls off (i.e., 47), try an arp with an envelope of 0F and place it on the same beat as the kick.  This will mean the arp starts with a volume of zero at the same instance the kick drum hits, and then fades in, giving the arp a pulsing sound, and emphasizing the kick.

If you like busy basslines (like me), try using E commands.  I often place an E02 command on the notes right after a kick, so they’re one level lower in volume than the next notes, which emphasizes the kick by lowering the volume of notes around it.  (Obviously these ideas are more important to dance music, but can certainly be utilized in any style where you want a nice strong backbeat.)

So this bassline:

Becomes this bassline:

These two simple tricks can have a pretty big impact on the overall sound of a track.  In the audio example below, I play a bassline with no E commands and arps with a steady envelope  (along with a little “lead” kind of thing with a steady envelope) followed by pulsing arps, E command bassline, and the same lead figure also using the 0F envelope.

For the next article we’ll further explore methods of volume control, including M commands for full-on fake sidechaining.



  1. I’m more impressed with you use of the noise channel as a high hat. I can never get it to sound so good.

  2. Here’s sort of a WAV trick. I always keep my WAV channel running at the groove 3/3 with every other channel at 6/6. It means you can really close the gap in time/sound between the kick and your bassline.

  3. excellent breakdown of kicks! some good recap and a lot of stuff i hadnt though of or put together. M commands to boost kicks.. never thought of that :) for your enjoyment, heres my go to wav kick drum:
    Square wav
    Vol FF
    Cut 10
    Vol FF
    Cut 10
    1. P F0 or P D0 (depending on tempo/style)
    8ish. K
    But sometimes I try not to use a kill command so it cycles through more or less frequencies before changing notes depending on how i write the wav pattern. also, when you have the P command at F0 without a K command on the table, you can put K commands into the Phrase screen and make it sound like different pitched toms depending on how long you let it ring

  4. Took you long enough, but worth the wait.

  5. Hey never though to use a E command after the kick sweet swelling jebus! I going to try some of this out! Thanks Dr.Octy ;)

  6. lovely////

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