How to Use EQ to Improve Your Kick Drum Sound
Mixing drums starts with the foundation. The kick drum sound.
The kick drum sound and the snare will be the defining factors of your drum sound. If the kick drum sounds bad, the song’s foundation will lose its footing.
The kick drum must be tight and punchy, with enough low-end to fill up the bass range and enough mids to cut through the mix.
EQ is one of the most important tools you can use to get a better kick, but where do you start? The frequency range is so big, and to a beginner, it might be hard to figure out which frequencies are better than others.
You’re in luck.
EQ Guidelines for a Better Kick Drum Sound
The kick drum makes your head bob in beat with the music. It’s the sound that you feel in your gut when you’re dancing to extremely loud music at the Jersey Shore. If the kick drum sounds bad then the whole foundation of the track will suck.
Kick drums need to be tight and punchy, with a thick low end and a powerful snap to cut through the rest of the instruments.
Where Do You Start?
A good starting point is obviously recording your kick drum well to begin with. But when you’re mixing drums, you might want to spice it up a bit to make it sound all that better.
A high-pass filter can clean up the low end of the kick drum quite well. Don’t overdo the filtering though; a filter targeted at the frequencies below 30 Hz can clean up unnecessary low-end.
Emphasize the low thickness with some EQ boosts. If your kick is lacking in low-end add some low shelving around 80 – 100 Hz for a thicker kick. If your kick is more electronic sounding or you need even more thickness then going down towards the 60 Hz will make the kick hit you in the stomach. Which is a good thing. Usually.
A Cloudy Boom
Boominess in kick drums can be a horrible thing. It’s like a cloud on a nice day. One minute the sun is shining, the next a muddy-looking cloud has overcast your nice mix. A muddy kick drum can also cloud up the clarity of your kick drum sound, so it’s normally a good idea to cut around 120 – 200 Hz if you feel there is too much muddiness in your kick drum sound.
A Case of the Cardboard Box
Boxiness is the bigger, more annoying brother of boominess. If boominess is a cloud, then boxiness is a thunderstorm. A boxy sound will make your kick sound horrible and your bass drum. So if your kick is suffering from a case of cardboard-box syndrome. then cut the frequencies between 300 – 400 Hz to see if it cleans things up.
Snap, Crackle and Kick
A thumping bass drum might be great for some songs but for most genres you want the snap of the beater to be audible as well. Depending on the genre of the song, and the type of beater used, different frequency boosts in the beater area generate different sound. A general rock kick drum has a boost of around 2.5 kHz but a metal snap can benefit from a more pronounced boost around 4 kHz. Other genres might not need as much of a beater sound if you’re looking for a softer kick drum sound.
Filter the High-End
Filtering out the high-end can work well if there is a lot of bleed from the snare and cymbals. A low-pass filter down to 10 kHz or can really get rid of that high-end you really don’t need in the kick drum sound.
Use These EQ Tips For a Better Kick Drum Sound
Whether you’re struggling with a lack of low-end, too much boominess, or a cardboard sound devoid of any snap, using the guidelines above will help you create that awesome kick drum sound you hear in your head.
Getting a good kick drum sound is the bedrock of a good drum mix. Once you’ve gotten to grips with the EQ spectrum and how to use it to make your kick drum sound spectacular, then you can focus on other things in the mix.
Start with the kick drum to get the groove going, making the mixing process much more enjoyable.
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Image by: Paul Graham Raven