Have you ever found yourself getting lost in a sea of bass frequencies, desperately trying to get your kick drum to cut through the mix like a knife through butter?
Fear not, my friend, because in this blog we're going to dive deep into the art of kick drum mixing and unlock the secrets to achieving that elusive thump you've been searching for.
Mixing Kick Drum
We're going to take you on a wild ride and show you how to achieve a tight and punchy kick that will leave your listeners begging for more.
We're talking enough low end to shake the foundations and enough mids to slice through the mix.
After all, the kick is the heartbeat of your music, the driving force that gets heads nodding and feet tapping.
Don't let a weak kick hold you back - let's unleash the power of that bass drum and take your tracks to the next level!
01. Always Get it Right From the Source
If you want your kick drum to sound tight and punchy, you've got to get it right from the get-go.
That's right, the best way to achieve great results is to nail that sound straight from the source.
Whether you're recording your own kicks or using samples, you need to have a clear idea of what you're going for before you even hit that record button.
Don't leave things to chance, people - this is serious business!
Think of it like cooking up a meal in the kitchen.
If you use subpar ingredients, even the most talented chef in the world won't be able to make your dish shine.
The same goes for kick drum mixing - if you don't have the right samples or recording setup, no amount of mixing magic will be able to save your track from sounding like a hot mess.
So, take the time to perfect your sound design skills, choose killer samples, and record with precision.
Once you've got that perfect kick sound, polishing it to perfection and making it shine in the mix will be a piece of cake.
We all know that feeling when you're trying to get that perfect kick sound, but it just won't cut through the mix no matter how much EQ boosting you do.
Well, before you go ham on that EQ knob, you've got to make sure your kick drum is in phase.
That's right - even the mightiest of EQs won't be able to save your mix if your kick is out of whack.
So, how do you make sure your kick is in phase?
Simple - flip that polarity switch and listen in context. If that doesn’t work, manually check the waveforms and align wherever necessary to get everything in phase.
If you're layering kicks, choose samples that work well together, especially if they're in the same key or scale.
But don't forget to check the phase of your overheads and room mics.
You'll save yourself a ton of time and frustration in the long run.
03. Using Gates and Expanders for Clarity
If you’re struggling with too much snare bleed in your kick drum mic, then you can grab a gate to fix it up.
That bleed can mess up your EQ boosts and create phase problems that you don’t want.
Sure, in jazz and other classical genres, it’s all cool, but if you’re going to boost high frequencies on your kick, watch out for that harsh and aggressive snare sound.
Once your mix starts sounding harsh, that’s your cue to get rid of that snare bleed, especially if you’re going ham on the EQ.
But don’t go ham on the gate, either.
You don’t want it messing up the drummer's performance during drum rolls, bridges, and quieter parts of the song.
Manually automate your gates’ threshold parameter or use on/off switches to keep things smooth.
Once you’ve got that snare bleed under control, you’ll be able to fine-tune that low-end and get more definition in your mix.
But watch out for those transients.
Gate plugins can sometimes mess them up, so go for a gate with a look-ahead feature to make sure you’re not ruining the attack.
04. Use Transient Shapers to Affect Attack and Decay
Transient shapers are a tool that's still relatively uncharted in the world of engineering, so they're not something you'll see recommended too often.
Nevertheless, they can save you a ton of time on the EQ front and are frequently used by mixing and mastering engineers to get those drum sounds to pop.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves - we should first understand what we mean by "transient."
In essence, the transient is just the attack phase of a sound - typically lasting for 10-30 ms.
With a transient shaper, you're just manipulating the envelope of a sound.
Sometimes you'll want to increase the attack, while other times you'll want to decrease it.
For instance, if you have two kick drums in a mix and one dominates the sub and lower bass frequencies while the other dominates the midrange and higher frequencies, decreasing the attack on the bass kick can be a good idea.
After that, you can add more attack to your high kick to help it slice through the mix.
The key is to always experiment and find what works best for each song - there's no one-size-fits-all solution.
But if you can master the art of using transient shapers to manipulate the envelope of your sounds, you'll be amazed at how punchier your drums can sound without having to rely on EQ alone.
05. Kick Drum EQ
When it comes to mixing drums, one thing that can be quite tricky is the Kick EQ settings.
The reason for this is that there are numerous different types of kick drum sounds, each with their own unique characteristics, and there are also different genres of music to consider.
As a result, it can be challenging to come up with a formula that works all the time.
In each situation, a particular approach will be required to ensure that the kick drum sounds great in the context of the song.
However, there are certain guidelines that you can follow to ensure that you are on the right track.
Here's a step-by-step guide that you can use as a starting point:
- Identify the problem areas: First, you'll want to listen to your kick drum and identify any problem areas in the sound. For example, does it sound too boomy or muddy? Is it lacking punch or clarity? By identifying these issues, you'll be able to target the right frequencies with your EQ adjustments.
- Start with a high-pass filter: Before diving into specific EQ adjustments, it's often a good idea to start with a high-pass filter. This will remove any unnecessary low-end rumble from the kick drum, allowing you to focus on the more important frequencies. Set the filter to around 20Hz to 31Hz to remove any unwanted rumble.
- Boost the sub frequencies: The sub frequencies in a kick drum are what give it that deep, powerful sound. Boosting these frequencies can help add weight and impact to the sound. Set your EQ to around 20Hz to 80Hz and experiment with boosting this range until you find the right balance.
- Add fullness: The fullness of a kick drum comes from the mid-range frequencies, typically around 80Hz to 200Hz. This range can also add warmth and body to the sound. Use your EQ to boost this range slightly to add weight to the kick.
- Tame the mud: The "mud" range of a kick drum, usually around 200Hz to 400Hz, can make the sound feel boomy and unclear. Use your EQ to cut this range slightly to reduce any unwanted mud from the sound.
- Add clarity and presence: The higher frequencies of a bass drum, around 500Hz to 5kHz, can add clarity and presence to the sound. Boosting these frequencies can help it cut through the mix and sound more defined.
- Watch out for hiss: Finally, be careful not to boost the very high frequencies too much, as this can introduce hiss and noise into the mix. Keep your EQ adjustments within the 6kHz to 16kHz range to avoid any unwanted hiss.
If you're working on a rap track that has an 808 sample, then you might want to do the opposite of what has been mentioned above.
In this case, you want the 808 to dominate the low-end, so you'll need to push the high pass filter of the kick to around 30 Hz and create a low shelf cut at around 60Hz-80Hz.
Similarly, if a bass guitar is driving the low-end of the song, then this approach is also suitable.
It's important to note that these are just guidelines and not a formula. When experimenting with the EQ, use the settings mentioned above as a starting point.
Mixing Kick Drum: Get Perfect Sound on Every Mix With EQ
06. Shaping Your Kick With Compression
Compression is an essential tool when it comes to mixing a kick drum.
It can help to shape the sound, control dynamics, and enhance the overall impact of the kick.
In this section, we'll explore some secrets for compressing a kick.
The first type of compression we'll discuss is "Glue Compression."
This type of compression is used to help glue together multiple kick mics (or layers) and give it a cohesive sound.
To achieve this effect, we need to set the compressor with a low ratio, a medium to slow attack, a medium to slow release, and a soft knee.
Start with a ratio of 1.5:1 to 2:1, an attack time of around 10-20 ms, a release time of 50-100 ms, and a gain reduction of around -2 dB to -4 dB.
This will help to bring out the sustain, glue multiple kicks, and give them a more cohesive sound.
The second type of compression is "Dynamic Compression."
This type of compression is used to tame the dynamic range of the kick, which can help make it more consistent and easier to mix.
To achieve that, we need to set the compressor with a higher ratio, a fast to medium attack, a medium release, and a hard knee.
Start with a ratio of 4:1 or more, an attack time of 5-15 ms, a release time of around 20 ms, and a gain reduction that affects everything except the quieter kit hits.
This will help to control the overall level of the kick and make it easier to fit into the mix.
The third type of compression is "Tonal Compression."
This type of compression is used to bring out the tonal qualities of the kick and make it more defined.
For tonal compression, we need to set the compressor with a low to medium ratio, a medium to slow attack, a medium to slow release, and a soft knee.
Start with a ratio of 1.5:1 to 3:1, an attack time of 15 ms or more, a release time of 20 ms or more, and a gain reduction of around -2dB to -3dB.
This will help bring out the fundamental frequency of the kick and add more definition.
The fourth type of compression is "Transient Control."
This type of compression is used to tame the initial transient of the kick and make it more consistent.
To control transients, set the compressor with a higher ratio, a fast attack, a fast release, and a soft knee.
Start with a ratio of 5:1 to 8:1, an attack time of 5-10 ms, a release time of 10-20 ms, and initially, push the threshold to only affect transients.
Once you start to affect the decay of the kick, reduce the threshold.
This will help to control the initial attack of the kick and make it more consistent.
The fifth type of compression is "Punch."
This type of compression is used to enhance the punch of the kick and make it more impactful.
To make a kick sound punchy, we need to set the compressor with a low to medium ratio, a slow attack, a slow release, and a soft knee.
Start with a ratio of 3:1, an attack time of 30 ms or more, a release time of 40 ms or more, and a gain reduction of around -2 dB to -5 dB.
This will help to enhance the punch of the kick and make it more impactful in the mix.
Make Your Kicks Punch With a Compressor
Another great technique that you can use to help your kick sound fuller in a mix is Parallel Compression.
It will help you add more definition and weight to your kicks.
If you want to make your bass drum sound huge in a song then using parallel compression on a kick is your friend.
If that's a bit confusing then watch the video below to get a better understanding of how this can help you.
07. Use Triggers for Live Kicks
Drum recordings can sometimes lack that much-needed punch and leave engineers scratching their heads.
Drum samples, of course!
But hold on; don't be trigger happy just yet.
If not used correctly, they can lead to clashes with the original drums, leaving you in a worse-off situation than before.
But don't let that deter you!
If you take the time to figure out what your live kick drum(s) are lacking, drum samples can fix technical issues, modify tone, or alter dynamics with surgical precision.
You can identify if your kick is missing clarity, attack, boom, or punch and use that as a guide for selecting the right sample to blend in.
And let's not forget about tuning controls.
Most drum triggering software comes with them built-in, allowing you to fine-tune each sample to your liking.
Make sure you use them to your advantage so that your samples are perfectly in tune with the original drums.
But what about complex rhythms? Ghost notes, rolls, and fills can make drum samples noticeable, ruining your perfect drum performance.
No worries; automate the threshold of your drum trigger plugin in those sections of the arrangement, and you're good to go.
Just one last thing, though.
Before you call it a day, make sure to check for any phase issues.
It's important to ensure that the sample is not causing any frequency cancellation and that it's perfectly aligned with the original kick.
08. Use Sidechain Compression to Give Space to Your Kick
The main goal of using sidechain compression is to get the bass out of the way for just long enough to hear at least the transients or attack of the kick drum clearly.
So basically, you briefly lower the volume of the bass part whenever the kick drum comes in.
Now, because the kick would have masked the bass, you don’t miss hearing it for a short amount of time.
Each DAW does this differently, so I won’t go into detail with this.
09. Add Saturation for Beef and Aggression
Some kicks just lack the character to be able to push through a mix.
If you’re working on a dense mix, then to make the kick more distinguishable, you’ll need to use saturation or distortion in some cases.
Saturation is a great way to emphasize the midrange harmonics on a kick to make it more compatible with smaller speakers.
You can make a kick sound huge and powerful by saturating it a little.
So, try different types of saturation to see if you can add more power, tone, and personality to your kick.
10. Use Automation
In some songs, you’ll find that in dense sections of the song, the kick cuts through nicely, but in quieter parts, it gets way too loud.
If that happens, then use gain automation to reduce the level of the kick just for those quieter parts of the song.
Automation can also be used to make certain parts of the song sound bigger.
For instance, you might create a 1 dB boost on the kick in the chorus sections to make it sound bigger and more energetic than the verse.
A neat trick would be to add a 0.5 dB to 1 dB low shelf boost just for the chorus parts. This is more felt than heard.
When you’re doing your automation, make sure that it doesn’t sound obvious though; less is more.
11. Use Reference Songs
Alright, so you've tried everything in your arsenal and nothing seems to work?
Don't sweat it, because when all else fails, you can always turn to reference material.
Here's what you need to do:
In the morning, when your ears are still fresh and full of energy, take a moment to listen to tracks that are similar to the project you're working on.
Or better yet, do it before you start mixing. This will help you focus and give you a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
Load those reference tracks into your project when mixing, and keep going back and forth between your project and the reference tracks.
But don't aim to make your mix sound like the reference; the goal is to capture the feel of the track.
So if the reference track is a happy, bouncy tune that makes you want to dance, go for a bright and punchy kick.
On the other hand, if it's a dark and moody track, go for a low and midrange-focused kick sound with a smooth attack.
When choosing reference tracks, make sure they help you capture a particular emotion or feeling.
Don't just choose a track because it won a Grammy award.
Another tip is to choose tracks that are in a similar key to the project you're working on.
If the reference tracks are not in the same key, don't worry about it too much. Just make sure that your EQ moves are based on what works best for the song, not on making your mix sound like the reference.
It's also a good idea to reference your mix on less bass-heavy speakers.
This will help you properly place the kick drum, so make sure to reference it on as many sound devices as you can - headphones, smartphones, laptops, cars, you name it.
Testing your mix alongside reference tracks on different sound devices is the key to getting a killer kick drum sound for every mix you work on.