Kick Drum Compression Settings | 5 Steps to a Perfect Kick

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After EQing your track, you may still not be satisfied with how it “sits” in the mix. Instead of focusing on frequency, let’s look at some kick drum compression settings to tame dynamics. That’s right, dynamic range has a HUGE impact on your final mix. Just like a bass guitar, our kick drum’s “low-end” will require some compression to provide consistency. In other words, we need to “tighten-up” the “low-end” to bring out the “high-end” of our kick drum.

Chances are your mix has more than enough “thump”, but it most likely lacks the “bite”. Our objective is to EMPHASIZE our kick drum’s “transients” so they can “cut” through the mix. By using a compressor, we can essentially control the balance between “transient” and “resonance”. I will also be showing you a “trick” that will forever change the way you HEAR compression. That being said, let’s dive right into things! Are you ready to learn how to compress a kick drum?

The Balance Between Transients and Resonance

So we understand exactly what we’re going after, let’s observe our kick drums’ waveform. We’ll be relating what we SEE to what we HEAR.

Screen Shot 2019 09 10 at 4.44.44 PM

As you can SEE, our kick drum has an initial “spike” referred to as the “transient” and a “tail”, which we HEAR as “resonance”.

Since there aren’t that many instruments occupying the “bottom-end” of the frequency spectrum

Our kick drum’s “resonant qualities” will most likely “cut” through since we’ve already created a “slot” for them.

By EQing our bass guitar to complement our kick drum, there should be no collisions.

However, with all our other tracks dwelling in the “top-end”, we will most likely lose our kick drum’s “presence”.

The sound we associate to the “transient” is the beater hitting the drum head, but even after “boosting” around 1.5 kHz…

It gets “lost” in the mix.

Let’s listen to some sound examples to familiarize ourselves with our kick drum.

Kick Drum Compression is Essential

In the context of a solo drum performance, you won’t HEAR any need for a compressor. This is why we need to focus on the bigger picture, not on any particular track.

Either way, let’s listen to our entire kit to get some context…

Since there aren’t any other tracks “interfering” with our kick drum’s “transients”, it remains audible.

However, once we add more tracks to the mix, our “transient” will become inaudible.

Compared to our kick’s “resonance”, it is such a small part of the waveform.

Now I want you to HEAR the difference between an un-processed kick

And a PROPERLY compressed kick

Listen for that “transient”, that beater hitting the drum head.

Can you hear how much more “presence” the processed kick drum has?

In essence, I decreased the tracks “resonance” and increased it’s “transients” in relation.

Would like to know HOW I did it?

Creating a Kick Drum Bus to Host our Compression Settings

Since we want to target the kick drum on its own, we want to route it to an individual bus. If you usually track “live” drums, make sure to have a dedicated microphone for your kick.

Sennheiser e602 II Evolution Series Dynamic Bass-drum Microphone
If you’re looking for the best microphone for your kick drum, I highly recommend the Sennheiser e602-II. It’s more affordable and BETTER than the iconic Shure Beta 52A. You can read my review HERE.

If you use a high-quality sample library as I do, we need to route our “microphones” through our plugin’s mixer.

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 1.23.09 PM

Remember to route your kick drum through a MONO output.

Next, we need to create an auxiliary channel.

Screen Shot 2019 09 08 at 4.05.21 PM

Now you can connect your newly created bus to your kick’s assigned output.

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 1.23.54 PM

To facilitate things down the line, rename your track “Kick Drum” and load your compressor plugin.

Screen Shot 2019 09 10 at 3.39.54 PM

Great, now let’s learn that “trick” I mentioned a little earlier on…

Let’s HEAR how a Compressor Works

Make sure you’ve got “auto-gain” turned OFF if your compressor has this feature. We wouldn’t want to blow out any speakers (I exaggerate, but still, be cautious).

The first thing you want to do is set your “ratio” to MAXIMUM (30:1 in my case).

kick drum compression settings

Next, let’s set our “threshold” to MINIMUM (-50 dB in my case).

kick drum compression settings

Lastly, I want you to set your “attack” to MINIMUM as well (0 ms in my case)

kick drum compression settings

Great!

Now, with your kick drum “soloed out”, HIT PLAY.

You may hear a little sound or NOTHING at all, but start playing with the “attack” knob

What do you notice?

Essentially, your compressor is “muting” your track, but only AFTER your designated “attack” time.

As you increase the “attack” speed, you let more sound pass through the compressor.

More of the “transient”, in other words.

This is EXACTLY how we will determine our “attack” time, so tweak it until you like what you hear

5 Steps to a Perfect Kick Drum

Step 1 | Set the “attack” time to let enough of the “transient” through

kick drum compression settings

Step 2 | Set your “ratio” to 3:1

kick drum compression settings

Step 3 | Set your “threshold” to achieve no more than -6 dB of gain reduction

kick drum compression settings

Step 4 | Set your “make-up gain” to match your original “level”

kick drum compression settings

Step 5 | Set the “knee” to 0 (hard knee) and keep the “auto-release” ON

kick drum compression settings

If you’d rather not use an “auto-release”, then make sure to set it quickly enough to anticipate each “transient”.

Using an “auto-release” basically takes care of this for you, so I usually leave it ON.

Kick Drums that “Cut” Through any Mix

I guarantee that using this compression setting, your kick drums will officially be “cutting” through your mix. All that hard work spent EQing your kick will now become audible to your listeners.

This is why I take care of EQ first and then use compression to finalize my track.

As much as I’d love having my instruments showcase their full dynamic range

Certain genres simply WON’T allow it.

We need to “balance out” each track’s dynamics because they are all competing for the spotlight.

If one “element” is louder than the other, one of them will surely get “lost” in the mix.

So remember to save this “preset” as your own and tweak it to fit any project you work on.

And remember, if all of this processing doesn’t work, you can always layer another kick.

I hope this tutorial has been of great value to you.

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments and/or send me a personal message. Feel free to share any of your own personal kick drum compressions settings as well!

6 Responses

  1. Hello. Great job. Will this process work with a limiter? If not can you please explain how to figure out attack, sustain and release times on a limiter?

    1. Hey,

      I don’t recommend using a limiter in the place of a compressor. However, limiters ARE compressors.

      It’s just that limited are more of a “brick-wall” compressor, so you don’t have control and nuance.

      The secret for setting attack, sustain and release is to mimic the instrument’s natural envelope. For example, a pad has much longer attack so the attack time should be set higher. The kick drum has a very quick attack, so I usually set it between 5-10 ms.

      I hope that clarifies the process a bit. Thanks for reaching out!

      – Stefan

  2. Thanks mate, this article cleared my compression doubts. I have a question, that should I do additive equalization before compression or after compression in case of kick

    1. Hey Deepanshu,

      I recommend doing additive EQ after compression. That’s because compression removes some frequencies (mostly in the high-register).

      Personally, I rarely use additive EQ. However, I always do subtractive EQ before compression.

      I hope that helps, thanks for reading!

      – Stefan

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