Building The Perfect Kick

Building The Perfect Kick Blog Image

With more and more genres being dictated by the quality of your kick drum sound we thought it might be a good opportunity to explore some of our favourite techniques for getting this beast of the low end to really pop. 

It’s with our pleasure to present our top 10 music production tips for getting that perfect drum sound:

1. Side-Chaining – Although this won’t specifically change the characteristics of your kick drum, the process of ducking the sub / bass when the kick hits can do wonders to the perception of drum size.  Ryan recently explored this technique and more in his post about controlling bass in your mixes.  You can explore the technique in detail Here

2.  Hi-Hat Layer – A cheeky production trick that does wonders in allowing your kicks to cut though the mix.  Slowly blend in a hi-hat sample that copies the kick pattern.  Be careful not to mix too loud though as a little goes a long way but this super quick mix technique can ensure your bottom end works on any system, big or small and makes any kick drum sound amazing. 

3.  Rough EQ Settings - Now every kick is different but there’s no harm in offering a rough estimate when Eq’ing.  Here's our go-to frequencies when mixing: 

  1. HPF – Sub frequencies in kick drums can be a consistent pain as they love to steal headroom.  High pass filter them starting at 25Hz and work up until you start to loose some weight, back off a little and you will have hit the sweet spot.
  2. Low-Mids – Often a problem area in kick drums this can range from 130-300Hz and is always worth investigating.  A dip with a relatively tight Q can tighten the drum further and provide you with a punchier bottom end.

4.  Pultec EQ Trick – The Pultec EQ was originally developed in the 1950’s to help add clarity to early phone conversations.  Little be known to the those early founders was that they’d created a piece of hardware which would become incredibly sought after even to this very day.

Try boosting and cutting the same low frequency band for a more focused kick sound.  This unique trick adds a low frequency bump but also offers a low mid scoop that can do amazing things to a lack lustre kick drum.  It works beautifully on the Pultec EQ plug ins also.  The video below explains this is more detail: 

5.  Phase – A word that is often thrown around but what does it actually mean?  Basically, it’s the synchronisation of two waveforms that play at the same time and are of similar frequencies i.e two kick drums. 

The diagram below shows this in more clarity with the example being completely 'out of phase'.  This is something we should look to avoid. 

 (Source - Pro Audio Files) - Kick drum samples 'out of phase'.

(Source - Pro Audio Files) - Kick drum samples 'out of phase'.

Phase issues in layering kicks can be solved by one of two ways:

  1. Audio Editing – get in there and drag the audio or drum sample until the waves beautifully line up.  The image above represents the opposite of what we'd like to achieve. 
  2. Utility – Try flipping the phase using a plug in.  This essentially turns the wave over so it matches the other.  Ableton’s ‘Utility’ will do the job as will Logics ‘Gain’ Plug in and any EQ with the phase image. 
 Look out for this dial (red) on many Eq's or pre-amps.  This flips the phase of the incoming signal. 

Look out for this dial (red) on many Eq's or pre-amps.  This flips the phase of the incoming signal. 

It’s always worth loading a few utility plug-ins onto your drum channels and checking the phase when you begin mixing. 


6.  Layering – It’s inevitable that sometimes you won’t be able to find the perfect kick drum but this is where sample layering comes in.  Dividing the kick down into frequencies or characteristics can allow you to choose the right layers to get the most full and impact heavy kick.  As previously mentioned, watch out for that phase relationship. 

When layering, it’s often worth getting a little aggressive with the EQ to carve out gaps and prevent too many sub frequencies building up in the bottom end.

7.  Tuning - This doesn’t apply to all kick drums but often they’ll need tuning to the key of your track.  If you’re struggling to hear the note tune the kick up an octave (12 semi-tones) first then tune from there.  Once you’re happy drop it back down to the original octave and you’ll be good to go.  This sneaky production tip can often allow the bottom end to feel more solid and also solve many relationship issues between the kick and the bass.  

8.  Compression - Your drum compression settings can either make or break the quality of kick.  A few things to consider:

  1. Does the kick or sample actually need compressing?
  2. What are you trying to achieve by compressing the drums?
  3. Quick compression attack – this will clamp down on the initial hit or click of the kick flattening the sound and making the whole thing more compressed.
  4. Slower compression attack – this will let through the initial ‘knock’ of the kick drum then clamp onto the tail lengthening the release of the drum.

9.  Parallel compression – A technique that’s always worth investigating when mixing drums.  This can be achieved in a few different ways.  The principle idea is to have a heavily compressed signal blended against the original signal hence the transients are preserved in the dry whilst allowing you to add the extra energy of the over the top drum compression (wet).  Here are a few thoughts on the process:

  1. Many modern compressors have a wet / dry mix on to allow easy experimentation of Parallel compression – it’s always worth a shot.
  2. Try setting up one compressor on an aux and send different amounts of the kick, snares and hats to it.  Often the smallest amounts can have a huge impact.  This is especially effective on room mic's or heavy reverb orientated drum sounds.  

10.  Subs - Sine waves can be incredibly helpful in adding weight to a flat kick drum.  After all, the king of the drums machines the humble 808 is predominantly based on one.  If you aren’t able to find an 808 why not try this trick: 

Run a sine wave under your track.  Preferably playing the note that is in key with your composition.  Then apply the following: 

  1. Place a gate on the channel with the input being set to your kick drum. 
  2. Now set the gate to expand mode and adjust the settings to suit.
  3. Every time the kick plays you’ll get a short burst of low sine wave adding weight to the bottom end.
  4. Mix to taste 
Tip - When placing a sign wave underneath your drums it’s often worth Eq’ing after. Just to keep things in check.


Like the article?  Got some more great drum mixing tips and tricks?  Let us know. 

The Touch Loops team. 

Touch Loops