In this article I will show you how to mix a kick drum from scratch, using kick drum EQ, compression, effects and shape it to the needs of your mix.
I may also include some VST images but feel free to use your favorite plugins. You don’t need to have the exact same plugins as mine in order to make this guide work.
Also, feel free to check out my whole Full Signal Chains For Each Instrument Series here.
Note: As always, when I share my chains – settings, I advise you to bypass the plugins to actually hear if you’re improving the sound or not. Sometimes, out of the 5-6 plugins I recommend, 3 or 4 might be enough for your mix. This entirely depends on how the track is sounding without any FX on it. I will share everything I use though, so you can experiment with everything and let your ears decide what to keep or not.
Kick Drum EQ
I would like to use an EQ first.
Cut around 100Hz to 200 Hz. Normal to Wide Q could be fine here.
Boost around 50Hz to 70Hz to give some Thump to the kick. 50 to 70Hz can also be heard on almost every audio playing system.
Hi Pass/Low Cut using a filter at around 30Hz to 40Hz. This sub-bass low end doesn’t have any useful musical info in there, but just possible mud.
Cut around at 100hz to 120Hz. This way you will remove some mud, will make your kick cleaner with more definition and also create some space for the bass guitar. Too much reduction and will make your kick sound thin so, as always, let your ears make the final decision.
If your kick needs more low end use a low shelf from 40Hz to 80Hz. You can also blend a sample here with lots of low end (and his highs cut) and blend to taste with just the volume fader. The louder the sample the more low end your kick will end up with.
If your kick “feels” buried in the mix, boost at around 6Khz to 10Khz.
If you still feel the need to boost more try around 2Khz to 4Khz. But take care cause these frequencies need to be used by the vocals or else you’ll cause masking between them.
Important: If your kick still feels weird, buried or “wrong” chances are that the problem lies on the rest of the mix (synths, guitars). Or simply the kick was recorded in such a bad way that needs to be re-recorded or just use a professional sounding sample.
Kick Drum Compression
By using compression your aim is to add some transients and punch to the kick hits.
For this reason we’ll use compressors such as the SSL Compressor and the Distressor. For a Distressor Plugin just visit this page and download it for free (by the way great work Antress Team).
4:1 to 8:1 Ratio with a Slow attack and a Fast release are the key components here since we use compression to create punch.
A limiter to catch the remaining sudden peaks could be useful if you use it really gently cause too much will kill your punch (limiters have ultra fast attacks and ratio more than 10:1).
For a limiter you can use the Waves L1 as shown in the image below or download the free famous limiter known as Gclip.
How To Mix A Kick Drum Using Automation
You can automate the kick drum volume or automate the EQ between the different song parts.
I find myself automating the kick frum on quick double pedal sections where the kick can sound too much in your face and loud, bass can go out of control or the “smack” of the drum is too much in your face too.
Listen to the where the problem lies and automate to taste. You can automate the volume or the low/high shelves to reduce just the low or high end instead of the whole volume of the kick.
Need More Punch?
If you still need more punch to your kick drum and you cannot re-record it then it’s time to use a Transient Designer VST.
I don’t always go for a transient designer but if after of all the above steps the kick still lacks some punch then this might be your last resort.
Blending Samples VS Using 100% Samples
The low end of the frequency spectrum is the one that can handle A LOT of procession and still fool the listener that the sound is “natural”. Or at least… not processed too much.
I’ve found myself using 100% samples when mixing metal music cause the dynamics in the metal genre are more or less the same. In other genres make sure to use some automation as mentioned above to keep a more “dynamic flow” to the differents parts of the song.
But I check the kick mics first to see what I can do with them without any samples. I try to get the best out of them with no samples at all. If after all my EQ, Comps and general “tricks” can’t get what I want then I start blending samples or even discard the kick sound as a whole and use just high quality professional samples.
If you plan to use samples only then make sure they’re PERFECT or you won’t do any good to the mix as a whole. Here are my favorite drum programs that can get some fantastic sounds right out of the box with minimum to no mixing by your hands:
That’s pretty much everything I do to mix my kick drum, including my kick drum EQ and compression kick drum tips and techniques.
Don’t forget to always let your ears make the final decision and when you’re building your mix compare your kick(s) with the different elements of your mix.
Note: By no means you should copy-paste the chain or settings. This is just a good starting point of how I mix in personal. Feel free to ditch some steps and always follow what your ears are telling you. If the sound that you’ve got from the source was well recorded you won’t need to do much, just becaused I’ve included everything does not mean you have to use everything. If you find yourself using everything you can see here, chances are that you need to re-record or find a better sample to begin with. Have fun!
Make sure the drums sound good together and then the bass with the drums, then add the rhythm guitars and so on. Hope you’ve enjoy the How To Mix A Kick Drum EQ guide, have fun mixing!
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