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Killer Kick Drum Processing: EQ & Compression

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A wimpy kick drum sound can really suck the life out of an otherwise good mix. If your want your mix to stand up to today’s modern rock and pop songs it’s important your have a killer kick drum driving your track.

EQ Shaping

First off , what you can do in most situations is high pass filter the extreme low end somewhere around 20Hz  with a fairly steep slope. The majority of home studio systems are not going to reproduce these low frequencies yet this subsonic energy will still rob your track of important head room.

There are a few primary areas that we should look at when eqing a kick drum. Although I should say at this point there are no strict formulas for eqing anything but some of these suggested settings should get you in the ballpark.

  • Thud: This is the low end thump or boom of the kick drum and the part you can feel as much as hear. I will usually use a peaking band for this area boosting somewhere around 50-60Hz for that modern sound, a more traditional or natural sound can be found a little higher in the 100Hz region. A low shelving band may be worth experimenting with if your kick is feeling particularly puny but try not to overdo it, the frequencies in this area can get smeared really fast.

    Kick Drum EQ
    Kick Drum EQ
  • Smack: this describes the attack portion of the kick and can be found in the 3-5kHz range. It’s this area that contributes most to the character of the kick drum. I typically use a peaking band with a Q of about 1 to 1.5.
  • Click: does exactly what you might expect. You may not think it’s a sound quality desired in a kick drum but just listen to today’s modern rock songs and you’ll be surprised at just how “clicky” the kick drum is.  The click of a kick drum usually hides out in the 6-8K range, a peaking band with a Q of about 1.5 is a good starting point but experiment with a shelving band if want to get a bit more of the snare wires into the mix.
  • Mud: this is the enemy of kick drums and clouds up our mix. Cutting with a wide Q peaking band in the 250Hz-300Hz range can really clean up your kick drum sound.

Kick Drum Compression

OK so you’ve got your equalization under control now lets try and get some punch into our kick. Insert your compressor on your kicks channel, any bundled DAW compressor will do fine. I will usually set the ratio about 3:1 and adjust the threshold for just a few dbs of gain reduction. The important controls here are the attack and release.

Ren Compression Kick Drum

If the attack control is set at zero for default increase it to about 5ms otherwise the compressor is going to be squashing the attack portion of the kick before it has a chance to poke through. If you are having trouble hearing how adjusting the attack is affecting the sound pull the threshold way down and then set the attack, the setting at which the kicks transient is loudest should really pop out .

When you have the attack where you want it return the threshold to a more sensible level. It’s vital that you experiment here using your ears as too short attack time can suck some of the body or weight out of the kick drum. Set the release so gain reduction has returned to zero or close to before the next kick hit arrives. If you can time the release control just right you can create a kind of pumping effect that can sound great in certain genres.

I hope you enjoyed this article and remember the most important thing is to use your ears, experiment, spin them dials around see and what happens.


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