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 the bass guitar. Both create the basis for low-end.
In this tutorial, I will explain how to mix a kick drum, and 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 To Mix A Kick
Let’s dive in and learn about mixing a kick drum. But before you start mixing the kick drum, it’s important to know how to mix drums in general.
1. 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 when EQing kick drums because 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 of excessive, useless information. It will make the sound and the whole mix cleaner.
2. Boost and Cut Frequencies
After applying EQ filters to a kick, it’s time to start removing and enhancing specific kick drum 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.
3. Compressing A 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. A 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 it sound dull and lifeless. Because it can make the sound less dynamic you need to be careful and thoughtful.
There are no specific compressor settings for the 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 the kick drum. Use it as a blueprint.
4. Ratio and Threshold
Firstly, you need to set the ratio and threshold. A good starting point is a 4:1 ratio however 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 threshold when the sound becomes even. Pay attention to preserving the dynamics. The sound should be compressed but still dynamic.
5. 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 a very fast attack. So, it depends on what your goal is.
In a nutshell, when using a compressor the goal is to make a kick drum sound even while retaining the dynamics. A compressor is just a tool. It’s not magic.
How Loud Should Kick Drum Be?
A good starting point for kick volume is -6dB but it may change depending on the song. The best way to choose the correct kick volume is to level the whole drum.
Where Should Kick Drum Sit In A Mix?
A kick drum should occupy lower frequencies than a bass. So, for a kick drum 50Hz-80Hz should be good for most cases.
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.