Song mixing starts with drums. And drum mixing starts with a kick drum. A good kick sound is very important for any song.
To get a good bass drum sound, you should know how to mix it properly. Because a kick drum is the pulse of a song. Also, it should sit well with bass guitar. Both create the basis for low-end.
In this tutorial, I will explain how to mix a kick drum, how to EQ and compress it. Also, it’s very important to know the proper kick drum volume and where it should sit in the mix.
How Loud Should Kick Drum Be
The first step to kick drum mixing is the gain staging. Here you should consider the volume level of your bass drum. Because it creates balance in the mix and it’s a very important step.
A bass drum shouldn’t be too loud or too quiet. A good starting point for kick volume is -6dB. But it may change depending on the song. One thing to remember is that a kick must be lower than a snare. Also, you need to hear the bass guitar. This is good for overall balance.
A loud kick may cause issues in the low-end. Because the bass drum occupies low frequencies and bass guitar adds another layer to the bottom-end, you must be careful. The volume of a kick drum is very critical for a good mix.
The best way to choose the correct kick volume is to level the whole drum. Make your drum tracks solo and level the volumes with faders. Start with a based rum. Try to find the best spots for every drum track. Also, while doing it, always check how drums sound with bass guitar.
Where Should Kick Drum Sit In A Mix
Before starting mixing a kick drum with EQ and compressor it’s important to know where should kick drum sit in your mix. This is important for every instrument in your song.
Bass drum frequency range may vary from a kick to kick. In general, a bass drum lives between 50Hz and 90Hz. But you have to consider the bass guitar which mostly occupies 60Hz-110Hz. A kick drum should occupy lower frequencies than bass. So, for a kick drum 50Hz-80Hz should be good for most cases.
Of course, it all depends on the kick drum sound, song, personal preferences, etc. But it’s important to know where your kick should live from the start. It will make mixing easier and you will make better EQ decisions.
But before you start mixing the kick drum, it’s important to know how to mix drums in general.
How To EQ Kick Drum
After you set the volume of a kick drum and decide where it should sit in the mix, it’s time to start mixing with EQ and compression. This is a very delicate step and you must be careful and pay attention to details.
Incorrect use of EQ or compressor may damage the sound and whole mix. Too much mixing is not necessary. You have to do what is necessary. And always listen to the sound and make decisions that way. Rely on ears when mixing, not on your eyes.
Remove Frequencies With Filters
Kick drum mixing starts with EQ. And the first step is to remove excessive frequencies with filters. Every EQ plugin has options for high pass and low pass filters. With these features, you can create filter EQ bands to cut very low and high frequencies.
HPF and LPF are great tools to cut frequencies that are not necessary for a kick drum. These frequencies add information that is not needed. Human ears can’t hear them. So, it’s a good practice to remove them.
But be careful. Don’t cut too much information. You don’t want to remove frequencies that are critical for a bass drum. Just create a filter and drag it until you hear the difference in the sound. You need to remove only unnecessary frequencies.
There are no exact frequencies to cut. It depends on the drum sound. But you can cut more high frequencies than lows. For low frequencies, about 30-40Hz should be enough. You need to remove very low frequencies that cause the build-up in the low-end.
As for high frequencies go, you could cut everything above 10kHz. Depends on how much information there is.
The importance and goal of EQ filters are to clean the sound from excessive, useless information. It will make the sound and whole mix cleaner.
Boost and Cut Frequencies
After applying EQ filters to a kick drum, it’s time to start removing and enhancing specific frequencies. This is done by EQ bands. You can create as many bands as you like and cut or boost any frequency.
EQ filters just made the kick drum clearer and cleaner. With regular EQ bands, you can boost frequencies that enhance the sound of a kick drum. Also, you have to cut some frequencies that are not important. This will also free up space for other instruments.
The main frequency boost for a bass drum happens at 50-90Hz. Range may vary for different kick drums. For example, an 808 kick drum needs a different frequency boost than a regular kick drum. Also, the music genre is very important.
If you want to have a click sound in your bass drum, then you can boost frequencies between 2kHz and 3kHz. The frequency range could be different for every kick.
A bass drum doesn’t require too much frequency cut. Sometimes it needs none. But in general, a good area to cut is around 300Hz to 500Hz. Some kicks may require a cut around 150Hz.
But EQ cuts and boosts mostly depend on a drum sound and music style. There are no specific rules. This is a general guide. For the best result, listen to your kick drum carefully and make decisions that way.
How To Compress Kick Drum
The final step in bass drum mixing is compression. Any analog or digital compressor can be used. But what matters is the proper use of compression because it’s not a magic tool. Compressor can’t suddenly make your sound powerful. But it’s a helping tool.
The goal of compression is to create balance. A compressor softens the peaks of the sound, makes it even, and can make a note longer. But too much use of compression can make sound dull and lifeless. Because it can make the sound less dynamic you need to be careful and thoughtfully.
There are no specific compressor settings for kick drum or any other instrument. In mixing everything depends on the sound and what you want to achieve. But I will show you the general way to compress kick drum. Use it as a blueprint.
Ratio and Threshold
Firstly, you need to set the ratio and threshold. A good starting point is a 4:1 ratio. Sometimes you can use less like 3:1 or 2:1. But not more than 4:1 is required. And the threshold depends on the level and the type of kick drum.
You need the exact amount of threshold when sound becomes even. Pay attention to preserving the dynamics. The sound should be compressed but still dynamic.
Attack and Release
Then you set the attack and release. It means how fast a compressor should start compressing and how long a compression should be. A pick attack will disappear if you use the very fast attack. So, it depends on what your goal is.
In a nutshell, when using a compressor the goal is to make kick drum sound even while retaining the dynamics. A compressor is just a tool. It’s not magic.
The kick drum is a very special and important instrument in music. It should be powerful, it fills the low-end and acts as a pulse of the song. To achieve good kick drum sound results you need to mix it properly. Use this guide as a blueprint and try it on your tracks. Practice will make you a better remixing engineer. And remember – there are no rules in mixing or music production. Music is an art form and it should be creative. Mixing tools like EQ and compressor are just tools.