As the foundation of your project, mixing drums that “cut” is essential to achieving professional results. We want your listeners to FEEL THE IMPACT, so today we’re learning how to EQ a kick drum.
If you haven’t checked out my tutorial on how to EQ a bass guitar, please do so.
Understanding the relationship between the kick drum and a bass guitar is of the utmost importance.
Why is it so important? It’s quite simple…
Both of these instruments produce fundamental frequencies in the same “region” of the frequency spectrum.
If you’ve been following my other tutorials, you should know by now that when instruments occupy the same space…
As a result, one of our tracks will “get lost” in the mix. In other words, we won’t be able to hear it; it won’t “cut”.
Since percussive sounds are DENSER in nature, we need to put some effort into “cleaning them up”.
I’ve seen a lot of tutorials that don’t emphasize this enough…
However, most professionals agree that providing “complementary equalization” between the kick and bass is crucial.
So, buckle up because we’re getting this show on the road. Are you ready to learn how to EQ a kick drum?
The Acoustic “Profile” of a Kick Drum
Did you know that the LOWER a sounds fundamental frequency is, the more “harmonics” it produces? This may not mean much to you at the moment, but you’ll understand why it’s important.
Let’s observe this “spectral analysis” of a kick drum performance (you’ll hear it later).
Can you notice how solid the “pillars” are?
They actually represent the different “harmonics” (or “overtones”) that make up a sound.
When we’re working with an EQ, we’re “boosting” some of these frequencies and “cutting” others out.
Essentially, we’re modifying the “timbre” of our instrument. Pretty cool, eh?
So, since kick drums and bass guitars produce LOW FUNDAMENTALS, they are “trickier” to work with.
In other words, we need to do more “cleaning” since they take LOTS of room on the frequency spectrum.
As I mentioned before, some producers focus exclusively on the “low-end” but forget to address the “high-end”.
We’ll be covering the ENTIRE SPECTRUM so you’ll be equipped for any situation.
But, let’s warm up our ears first!
What if my Kick Drum Sounds “Great” Without any EQ?
Believe me, I feel that way ALL THE TIME about most of the tracks I get to work with. I encourage you to feel that way as well, but once “sound” has been converted to a “signal”…
It isn’t the same.
Microphones and instrument pickups do not HEAR sounds like the human ear.
Your tracks may sound “great” on their own, but things change in the mixing and mastering stage.
Listen to this performance as a whole…
It sounds “great”, doesn’t it?
I actually chose this kit on purpose because I love it so much!
However, certain “elements” will begin to “get lost” once we begin adding more tracks to the mix.
Listen to the kick drum on its own now, with no EQ…
I still think it sounds “great”, but I can tell that this particular kick will lose a lot of “presence”.
It has a rich bottom-end, but we may lose some “thump” along the way.
Here’s what I did to make sure it “cuts” right through…
It’s actually very subtle, but it’ll make a BIG difference in the mix.
Now, let’s route our kick drum to its own “mixing bus”.
Routing the Kick Drum to an Individual Bus
Unless you’ve recorded your drums using ONE microphone and/or aren’t using a sample library, you may want more control. The best way to mix drums is by routing each microphone to its own mixing bus.
EQing a kick drum isn’t the same as EQing a snare drum, for instance, so let’s create a bus/auxiliary channel.
In case you aren’t familiar with my work, I use Steven Slate Drums 4 Platinum, but this will work with any high-quality sample library.
You’ll first want to route your “microphones” through your instrument plugin’s outputs.
Use MONO for EVERYTHING EXCEPT, “toms”, “overheads” and “room”.
Next, we need to create an auxiliary channel (aka bus) to HEAR our kick drum.
The “input sources” may not correspond with your plugin, but there should be an inherent logic to it all.
Finally, we can load our EQ plugin and rename our track “Kick Drum” for future reference.
7 Steps to a Perfect Kick
Step 1 | HP Filter around 50 Hz
Step 2 | Boost for “Thump” at 60 – 90 Hz
Step 3 | Cut for “Unpleasantness” at 100 – 150 Hz
Step 4 | Cut for “Unpleasantness” at 200 – 250 Hz
Step 5 | Boost around 1.5 kHz for more “Beater” OR Cut around 2 kHz for less “Plastic”
Step 6 | LP Filter around 10 kHz
Step 7 | Reduce Gain to Compensate for any Boosting
Once you’re done, I suggest you save this “preset” as your own for your future projects.
These are general guidelines, so remember to use YOUR EARS and tweak your “settings” for each project.
Using Complementary EQ on your Kick Drum
Before we finish, I want you to keep in mind that different genres will require different kicks.
For example, this one would not be fit for “metal” as their kicks fall in the “low-mids”. Check out my tutorial on how to EQ bass guitar for more information, as it pertains to both.
In other words, I actually “cut” the “low-mids” on this one to accommodate a bass guitar in this range.
Can you see how the two EQs complement each other?
This kind of sound would be ideal for “rock” music, but a “metal” mix would be somewhat “flipped”.
However, their bass guitars still have a “characteristic mid-range growl”, so we could actually have BOTH…
A “bottom-end” and a “low-mid range growl”.
Same goes for the kick, but I rarely “boost” the “low-mids”.
You can manage to fit bass and a kick in the “low-end” by precisely “cutting/boosting” frequencies using NARROW bands.
For example, listen to how the kick drum and the 808 bass sound together in a “trap” song.
The “low-end” of the kick EMPHASIZES the 808 bass, but it still retains its “thump”.
The “Backbone” of all Your Projects
The kick and snare drums play a fundamental role in music, so they must be audible to your listeners. The main cause of a “weak” mix is a lack of presence from these two instruments.
They both have “their place” in the mix and this what we covered today.
Use these guidelines to find “that place” in your own projects and remember to “clean up” your tracks.
Doing this will allow your other tracks to find “their place” as well without colliding with your kick and/or snare.
Selecting the right kick drum for the job is also important, but remember that you can always LAYER A SAMPLE if your sound is missing anything.
I hope this tutorial has been of great value to you.
Please, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section or through a personal message. I also encourage you to share any of your own personal tips on how to EQ a kick drum!