Your kick and snare are two of the most integral parts of any mix. Together, these two percussive instruments drive the entire song forward and act as a foundational base for the rest of the song to build off of.
Snares tend to get discussed a lot both in the studio and online when people are looking for ways to help their drums cut through the mix. People ask questions like: does this have enough crack? Is that enough body/ring? How can I get more sizzle on my snare?
While those are all valid questions, a great snare drum alone is only part of the equation when trying to create an impactful, powerful drum mix. Just as important, though not nearly discussed as much, is the kick drum. It’s the yin to your snare’s yang.
Just like a bass guitar can often impact the perceived quality of a guitar mix, the kick can have the same impact on your snare, as well as the drum mix as a whole. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can be doing to get the most out of this essential instrument:
Your kick drum should have many descriptors when people listen to your mix and flabby, loose and dull shouldn’t be any of them.
A kick drum might not have as much attack to cut through the mix as your snare does, but you should still be doing everything you can to make it tight, punchy & full.
To accomplish this, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of some filtering techniques to clean things up. A bass drum, by definition, has a lot of bass frequencies that should be filling out the low end of your mix. If you don’t draw the line somewhere though, they can quickly extend beyond their useful range.
Try cleaning up your kick drums with a high-pass filter with a low starting frequency. Rolling off frequency content below ~30-40 Hz will be almost inaudible to most listeners, but can work wonders in tightening up your kick drum’s sound. Your plugins will thank you too – cleaning this unused noise out from the signal makes your compressors work more efficiently and your time-based effects are less likely to suffer from low-end buildup problems of their own!
Keeping The EQ Going
Once you’ve filtered out the noise, you’ve only just begun to dial in your kick drum using EQ. The next step is finding what’s missing (or what there’s too much of) and adjusting accordingly. Additive EQ can be used to emphasize different aspects of your kick sound.
If, for example, you’re missing a bit of low-end punch or “thump” you can use a low-shelf under about 100 Hz to add a bit more into your sound. It’s important to use this in combination with the high-pass filter, or you risk boosting that noise we just removed.
Moving up through the frequency spectrum, we start hearing kicks sound a bit cluttered around 200-300 Hz, making it the perfect place to notch out problem frequencies. Just above that (300-500 Hz) is where a boxy kick drum can be cleaned up.
A good rule of thumb if you’re not exactly sure where to cut is to boost a narrow band drastically and sweep the frequency that’s causing issues. Once you’ve located it, change from a boost to a cut and open up the band a bit (but not too much). If you’re not sure where to start – try finding frequencies where the snare has a lot of presence in the mix and cut some of those out of the kick. At a minimum, you’ll be creating a bit more room for your snare.
The Kick Drum’s Upper Frequencies
There’s only on really useful piece of content in the upper frequencies of a kick drum track: the beater. The beater of your kick is a huge piece of your sound, especially in tracks with faster kick patterns that demand a bit more to identify each hit.
This content predominantly lived between 2 kHz – 4 kHz, depending on the size and tuning of the kick drum. I would recommend starting lower in this range for pop & modern rock, where you’ll get a bit tamer of a sound when boosting. If you’re working with punk or technical metal, a higher frequency can sound a bit more aggressive.
Drop The Rest
Once you’ve got your beater situated, feel free to apply a low-pass to the highest frequencies in your kick track. By applying a filter around 10 kHz – 12 kHz, you can get rid of plenty more noise and cymbal bleed that have no business in your kick drum track.
Clipping Your Click
Don’t be afraid to pump a bit more aggression and presence into your kick using a clipper. While clippers like JST Clip predominantly get used on drums like the snare, a kick drum can get just as much out of the processor, especially in the mids & upper mids when you’re boosting them.
Not familiar with clipping as an actual technique (instead of the harsh digital clipping that occurs when you record too hot)? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Clipping Correctly to learn more about these powerhouse processors.
Kicking Old Habits
If you’re stuck in an old mindset when it comes to treating your kicks, it can be hard to break that habit. Experimentation is a great way to achieve new and unique sounds, but sometimes we get so used to “good enough” that we stop pushing the boundaries toward getting great sound.
Sometimes you just need to go to the extremes to find something new that works. If you’re willing to spend 15 minutes trying something extreme, whether it’s using a different EQ approach or clipping for the first time, I promise you’ll learn something new about your plugins and the sounds they’ll help you achieve.