Have you ever struggled to get your kick and bass sitting just right? Have you ever found it hard to get them fat while still being in the same key? You are not alone, and you might be making things unnecessarily hard for yourself.
I've been hearing more and more about this lately. Just like the "high pass filter everything" rule, here is yet another Youtube tutorial tip that has been blown out of proportion. If you haven't already heard this one, a tip has been spread that "you must have your kick in key with your song". As you know, I am highly against the concept of rules that apply to every song. I am a firm believer of listening and approaching things case by case. Here is my take on when you should tune your kick, how you should, and when you shouldn't.
The time to tune.
The only times i think you need to have your kick in key with your song is when you are using a long tonal kick that has a clear note to it. e.g. big room boomy EDM kicks, Trap 808 kicks, and sometimes long Techno kicks. If your kick is short and percussive (like most kicks), it is unlikely that it's pitch will have a clashing problem.
Why not tune it anyway?
If it is not causing a pitch clashing problem, yet you decide to tune it anyway, then one of two things will happen. You will will tune it up and then your kick will become too punchy and have less bass, or you will tune it down and your kick will lose punch and become too subby. Basically, if your kick is not tonal, you should choose the pitch based on the punch and frequency feeling, more so than a note on a keyboard. It's not worth sacrificing a great sounding and feeling kick drum, just so the numbers/notes seemingly match up.
If you have a kick that hits every note with a bass/808 note then it is in this case important that they are not clashing, and instead complimenting. I highly recommend experimenting with the kick's pitch is this case as it will gel better in one pitch more than others. However, you may just be better off using a more percussive/shorter kick in this case. Let the bass/808 have the note instead. Also, if your bass/808 is playing a melody/changing pitch then some notes will match with your kick, and some won't. Again, this is another reason to just use a percussive/short kick and avoid this problem all together.
Remember to always listen, and decide for yourself.
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