How to Mix Huge Kick Drums that Punch | Soundways

Mixing Kick Drums

Mixing kick drums can be a challenge.  Even experienced engineers struggle to dial in a perfect kick tone.  In recent years, sample replacement has become standard practice.  This technique may be necessary for certain styles of music.  However, it causes many engineers to abandon proper mic placement.  It is better to get a great kick sound from the source.  

It can be difficult to mix a kick drum that translates to all speaker systems.  A kick may sound great on studio monitors but, doesn't on consumer systems.  Engineers need a way to ensure their kicks will translate accurately.  

Core Production Workflow


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The Core Production Workflow optimizes translation for all speaker systems.  It works by allowing engineers to focus on the audio core.  The core is the frequency range which the human ear finds most sensitive, 2kHz - 5kHz.  In the past, engineers have used NS10's to hear details in the core.  These speaker may work for some mixing application.  However, they aren't accurate for mixing bass and introduce distortions.  Engineers need a way to listen in the most accurate way possible.  The solution is the Core Production Workflow.

Reveal is the first plug-in developed for core listening.  Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus.  Turn on Critical Listening mode to make level and EQ adjustments.  LowLeveler works with Reveal to harmonically balance bass instruments.  This workflow ensures that your mixes will translate to all playback devices.  

Tip #1:  Gate Your Kick

You've recorded a kick drum and its time to do some processing.  You may find that your kick has bleed from the rest of the drum kit.  If this is the case, use a gate to clear some unwanted noise.  

Place the gate on your kick drum track.  Set the threshold so that it is only triggered by the kick.  Use a fast attack time and a medium release time.  Adjust the release while listening, as this will change for different tempos and styles of music.

For a natural sound, try reducing the microphone bleed by only 9dB - 12dB.  This will allow the rest of the drum kit to come through in a subtle, organic way.

Tip #2:  Clean Up Mud

Kick drum microphones create proximity effect.  This can add power and body if placed carefully.  Excess proximity effect can result in a muddy kick drum sound.  If you find that your kick sounds boomy, you may want to filter off some low frequencies.

Use an EQ.  Try a Hi-Pass Filter set between 20Hz - 40Hz.  This will clear some low end rumble and allow the kick to punch through the mix.  

Tip #3:  Harmonically Balance with LowLeveler


Kick drums have a wide frequency response.  The Low Bass (Fundamental) frequencies may be louder than the harmonics.  If you find that your kick drum lacks impact, it may need to be harmonically balanced.  Use the Core Production Workflow to do this in the best way.  

LowLeveler works with Reveal to optimize bass instrument translation.  Place Reveal on your master bus.  Turn on Critical Listening mode and listen to your mix.  If you find that the kick drum has disappeared, use LowLeveler.

Place LowLeveler on the kick drum.  Adjust the Upper Bass (Harmonic) in context of Critical Listening.  Turn off Critical Listening mode and adjust the Low Bass (Fundamental).  This workflow ensures that your kick is harmonically balanced and translates to all speaker systems.  

Tip #4:  Use Compression

Compression can control transients and add punch to a kick drum.  You may find that your kick sounds dull in context of a full mix.  If this is the case, use compression.  Use a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 with a slow attack time and medium release time.  This will allow the transients to cut though while controlling the sustained sound.