I have given exclusive rights to publish Satoshi Tomiie’s four part tutorial series on how to produce house music. This is part 1 and it will focus on kick drum. Its basic stuff and the guidelines will apply to almost any dance music genre, but still very useful and interesting read from this Japanese house music pioneer.
Here it is:
Meticulous house producer Satoshi Tomiie is well known for his attention to detail. Ever since his magnificent debut single ‘Tears’, the 1989 house classic that he produced with the ‘Godfather of House’ Frankie Knuckles, Satoshi Tomiie’s name has been synonymous with carefully crafted house goodness.
In this exclusive series of interviews, the New York City producer, DJ, and label owner will share some studio tips, thought processes, and production tricks that he has acquired during a music career that stretches over 20 years.
Here in part one, Satoshi starts with that most basic element of electronic dance music: the kick drum.
Where do you begin, when writing a new track?
I always start with the kick drums. It’s about finding the right sound firstly, and then changing that sound and tweaking it continuously, whilst you produce the music for the track.
The kick drum is the foundation of dance music, so this is the part that I spend the most amount of time on.
That’s quite surprising, that you always start with the kick drum.
I don’t have a formula for writing music, but basically, the kick and bass is the bottom foundation of a dance track and it always has been.
Back in the day, the kick originated from a drum machine, like the Roland TR-909 or 808 and slowly it moved into the sampler. The technology has changed, but really it’s still about the kick.
Is there really that much difference between one kick and the next?
Actually the tone of a kick drum changes quite significantly according to the vibe of a song. For example, if you take the kick from a rocky alternative track, and swap it with the kick from a techno track, the vibe of both songs will change completely. The aim is to find the appropriate kick drum for the song.
How many kick drum samples do you have?
I’ve collected countless samples of kick drums over the years. I try to not use the same kick drum more than once.
If you use the same kick drum, the inspiration that you get from it can be limited. I’m always looking for new kicks. In fact, you could say my whole career has been about searching for the perfect kick drum.
Where do you get them from?
Sometimes I sample a kick from a record or a sample CD. Sometimes I’ll mix two kick drums together to create a new one, but that gets tricky as two different kick drums on top of each other can actually make the whole kick sound smaller as they cancel each other out.
It’s called phasing. The same thing happens if you wire a pair of stereo speakers backwards. It basically cancels out the bottom end. So when you layer kicks you have to tweak the phases on one kick drum so you feel both simultaneously.
So you’ve got your kick drum sorted, what’s next?
Well as I mentioned earlier, I continually tweak the kick whilst writing a track. Sometimes I will switch a kick half way through writing a track, or even when I’ve finished a track if I feel it’s not quite appropriate. I always go back and forth between the lower foundation of a track and the mid-range musical part, as well as the high end hi hats. It’s a balance really.
My tracks usually develop pretty organically. I will get the idea for how the track will go, as I write it. That could be a lead or a bassline, or the lyrics – it all happens when I write it.
Like sometimes I will set out wanting to write a deep house track, but the writing process will end up leading me to something else.
Why is that?
Some producers can easily adjust the style of music they want to do – you always hear of producers who just copy what’s currently hot. I can’t. My music just happens. Also, some people change their engineer when they want to change sounds, but because I do everything myself I can’t do that.
So your music happens quite naturally. Where does it lead after the kick drum?
After the kick, I put a beat together by adding snares and hi hats to build a loop. This is the easiest part for me.
It’s about finding the right sounds to go with the kick, and the right breaks too.
How long are your loops generally?
I tend to stick to a four bar or eight bar loop first, and then I will make the arrangement later. You’ve got to prepare your ingredients before you can cook, and to me, arranging a track is the cooking part.
That’s it for now. Watch out for part 2 where Satoshi shares his thoughts on bass.