The Reasoning Behind The Kick Drum Madness
The kick drum in most cases contains a lot of low frequencies. This is pretty much what makes them kick drums. The main thing you need to know off the bat is that the lower a kick drum sound wave is, the more boom or energy it will have, and the less you hear it. You will feel it more then you will hear it.
The human ear can hear something like 40 Hz and above give or take a Hz. If the Hz level is below that range, it’s more about physically feeling and perceiving the sound rather than you actually hearing it with your ears. What it comes down to is that those kind of sound waves are just way too long for our ears, but since they have a strong physical impact when produced, we can actually feel them. Feel that ish thumpin’,haha.
Now this is sometimes the transition from “hearing” the sound to “feeling” the bass in the super low frequency range is what will usually trick a lot of producers or engineers, and making them left wondering how to place the kick in the mix. So when you are trying to make a song sound loud and crispy, you are forced to decrease its dynamic range by using compression and/or limiting. You can really only do so much overall gain reduction before your limiter begins to act in a negative way, destroying the track and killing the life out of your mix. In most cases the kick drum tends to be the element in hip hop and rap mixes which most mastering limiters are “fighting” with, because that is the loudest part of the mix, that or the snare.
SO under 40-50 Hz, there is a large chunk of sound in a kick drum which you can’t really hear, but it is still able to trigger your limiter or compressor, pushing that super low end closer and closer to the point of squashing your mix. Now if you want to make a kick drum loud without ruining your entire mix, you will sadly have to sacrifice some low end energy (don’t panic) in order to be capable of turning up the volume of your kick drum. Let me show you how you can do this.
EQ Your Kick Drum
So as I was saying before, making a kick stand out well in a very loud hip hop mix requires you to sadly sacrifice some of your low end in order to get some more volume without squashing the mix.
You Pretty Much Have Three Options: have a loud mix, a lot of subs in the kick, or a loud kick.
You want to begin to carve out some of the low end from the kick, you can use a normal equalizer for this step. You always want to try different several EQ settings by raising and lowering the filter frequency. A lot of times I do it at around 80Hz to 100Hz, but sometimes that is too much so it really depends on the actual kick’s sound qualities.
Now try to filter out as many lows as you need to turn up your kick’s volume, but not more than needed. Accuracy is very crucial in this situation. If you start carving out too many lows you will make your kick drum lose some of it’s impact on the mix. But leaving too many subs in the sound will be an obstacle when you try to increase the kick volume. What a dilemma.
To Compress? Or Not Compress? Your Kick
(This Is Optional)
In a lot of cases these days you don’t need to compress your kick, because most of the kick samples used from sound kits today are probably already somewhat compressed. So if you do decide to compress do it wisely.
For kick compression in most cases I try not to go above 2 dB of gain reduction.
(Gain reduction is the amount of squashing that is happening, the lower the threshold the more reduction that takes place, a faster attack or louder input signal also cause gain reduction) All compressors will have a meter of some sort showing you your gain reduction.
I use a compression setting with a real fast (9 ms) attack in most cases, and a ratio of 3.82:1. As a rule of thumb try to set the release to a point where the compressor will stop compressing before every other kick hit if possible.
Let’s Make Space for Your Kick In The Mix
So now in order to make your kick’s remaining lows work, it is time to do some cleaning and clearing in your mix. To me and to many engineers this usually means HP filtering every instrument in the mix which is not a kick or bass sound. So all those Pianos, strings, synths, vocals, crashes, hihats, even cowbells, Everything!!!. All of those instruments lows in the way need to go, at least from around 120-150 Hz and down. I will sometimes go up to 250 Hz in some cases.
Now a lot of lush pianos or strings have texture in this space, but you will have to decide how much to sacrifice. Some piano’s low end may sound good sometimes, but hey this is not why the piano is there right? It’s there mostly for its mids and highs (this is different in a song with no drums, but this is Kick Drum article damn it! So we need to let the low end of your mix be dominated by that super bangin’ kick and the bass.
Set The Volume of Your Kick
Now this is what we came for people. You’re after those super strong hitting, super crispy loud kicks, that is the mission. So set the kick to a high level.
Let the kick sit somewhere around 6 dB above the mix. Whaaaaat?? Yes I know, without the mastering effects on it, it doesn’t really sound so right. Your artist will keep saying the kick is a little too loud, tell them to hush and be patient, haha. This is what will make the kick drum really stand out after mastering.
Apply Mastering To The Mix
(Or send it off to mastering, I test it with a mastering comp even if I am sending it off)
Put on compression with a 1 ms attack, auto release and a ratio of around 4:1. Then set the threshold level so you can apply somewhere around 4 dB of gain reduction. After you apply a limiter, use the makeup gain on the compressor to add volume if needed.
Max out the volume without squashing the mix and boooom you should have the loud ass kick drum you desire!
Here are some other videos on Kick Drum Treatment As Well