Mixing your kick drums is probably one of the most important aspects of your productions to guaranteeing a solid foundation. Your drum sounds are a high priority in your mix.
Even though kick drums are important they still tend to be a one of the most difficult elements to tackle during the mixing stage.
The most important thing to remember is that if you do a great job recording your kicks then the mixing stage should be a piece of cake.
So where should you start?
Start from the bottom up.
The kick drum is the foundation of your songs. The kick and the snare will be the defining factors of how your drums end up sounding. If you don’t take care of the kick, the whole foundation of your music could collapse. You have to aspire to a tight and punchy kick drum sound that also has enough low end but also some mid range to cut through a dense mix.
Kick Drum Equalization
Your kick drums can get a lot of benefit from a low-end boost with equalization. If you think that your drum sound is lacking in the bottom end, don’t be afraid to take out a low-shelf EQ and boost a few dB around 80-100Hz.
But beware because a boomy kick drum sound can also do more harm than good. If your kick starts to sound boomy, try and cut some frequencies out around 200-400HZ (the boomy zone).
Boxiness or papery sounding kick drums can also be a problem. If you suspect your kicks are sound either boxy or papery try and cut some frequencies out around 300-600.
Another common problem with kick drums is that there isn’t enough snap, and it’s all thump, so this is where you want to bring out some of the beater. The beater usually lives around the 2-4kHz region, but it will depend on the genre of the song you are working on. Give it a try
When it comes to gnarly drum sounds, it can be a pretty subjective topic – everyone has their opinions when it comes to compression. But if you follow these simple guidelines, you can get some steady and more punchy kick drums.
When it comes to the gain reduction on your drum bus it’s going to come down to the genre you are working and how well the drummer is playing. I would probably start with a 4:1 ratio and lower the threshold until I get about 3-6 dB of gain reduction.
From there I would adjust the attack and the release until I feel like I have the sound that I’m after. Just know that a faster attack will clamp the transient (the initial attack) dulling it out and a slower attack will let the beater through before the compressor starts to work. So use that bit of information to try and achieve the overall sound that you are looking for.
A little trick that you can try and use is to time the release of the compressor to the tempo of the song so that the compressor stops compressing before the next hit. This can easily be achieved in modern DAW’s because you can easily see the meters working, which will allow you to tweak the meters until you see it pumping in time with the song.
Compression and Equalization are without a doubt the fundamental processing units of any mix session. If you can get a grasp of these two things, then you are well on your way to understanding how you can achieve a great sounding mix.
If you’ve used all these techniques and nothing seems to be working, you might need to replace your drum samples. This is always going to be the last resort but it’s definitely common to do.