In this article, we’ll discuss how to make your kick drum sound more punchy, and why that’s important for a great sounding song.
The kick is the lifeforce, driving the rhythm of a track. If your kick drum sound is not cutting through the mix effectively, your song will lack potency and feel like there is something that is just not hitting right.
If your drums sound a bit quiet, or they are sounding muffled out by the rest of the track, and turning up the volume is only making things worse, then your kick may need editing or even replacing. If you are unsure whether your kick is cutting through nicely, then it probably isn’t.
Getting your kick drum sounding right from the start will give you a better foundation to build up from. A good, punchy kick will add so much body and vibrance to your music, it really isn’t something that can be overlooked.
If you’re new to this, don’t be too hard on yourself, getting your kick drum sounding great is something that takes time and experience. Drums are a finicky instrument to mix, but there’s so much you can try to get that kick punching through.
How To Make Kick Drum More Punchy
Firstly, make sure you have a good recording to work with by finessing mic placement, tuning, and muffling of the kick drum before recording. You can try using a different beater head on your kick drum pedal, especially one made out of a harder material, like a plastic beater.
Once you have a great recording or a high-quality sample to work with, use editing techniques to fine-tune the frequencies and get your kick cutting through the mix.
Some techniques you can use to help the kick cut through the mix include, EQing, Compression and Sidechain Compression, Gating, Saturation, and sampling.
Use gating to remove unwanted bleed in the recording. Compression can create a thicker, more punchy kick, while sidechain compression can be used to compress the bass and other instruments when needed to make room for the kick to cut through.
EQing is a great way to cut down certain undesirable frequencies and boost the best, most effective frequencies. Saturation brings harmonics and texture to the kick.
Samples can be added in layers alongside the kick recording or replace it completely. The right sample will fit the track, be in tune and boost the kick, while the wrong sample will eventually muddy the track.
All the above mentioned techniques are worth giving a try, so keep reading to find out, in more detail, how to implement each one and why they are worth the effort.
Steps to a Punchy Kick Drum Sound
Don’t feel stuck if your kick drum isn’t making the impact that you want. Try applying some of the following techniques or a combination of a few until you are satisfied with the result.
Tuning and Muffling of the Drum Itself
Getting a good quality recording in the first place is going to make a world of difference when it comes to tying it in with the rest of the track. You should never try to fix a bad recording, always try and get a better one before mixing.
For good punch from a kick drum, the general goal is to reduce sustain and increase attack without losing any thickness.
The attack is made up of the initial frequencies produced by the drum as the beater hits, and the sustain is made up of the frequencies that linger following the attack.
1. Tune your kick drum carefully to reduce boominess
There will be differences between drum kits. Your drum must be tuned to how you personally would like it to sound for the style of music you are using it for.
To get more punch and boominess from your drum via tuning, you can try lowering the tension of the batter head and using a bass drum muffle head like the Evans Emad.
If you’ve lowered the tension too much, some of the bass frequencies will become inaudible and the kick will start to sound thin or too boomy. In this case, try tuning your drum up a bit until you find the sweet spot..
2. Add Muffling to your kick drum to shorten sustain
Muffling is such a great way to speed up the attack and reduce sustain: aka – a recipe for good, solid punch! To muffle your drum, you have to place something sound-absorbent into the main chamber.
A pillow is the most common muffling for bass drums even amongst the pros, but you can also use a towel or blanket, or you can buy an EQ pad to place inside as well.
Place as much muffling inside the chamber as you need until you are happy with the sound. Be careful not to add too much muffling to avoid ending up with a dead kick drum sound.
3. Upgrade the beater on your pedal to improve attack
The bass drum beater determines a lot of the sound that you will hear for an obvious reason; it is the direct point of contact that produces the kick sound. Different beaters are more suited to different styles of music.
Experimenting with different beater heads can help you to find the sound you were looking to get out of your bass drum. Naturally, a harder beater head will produce a louder, more impactful sound. A beater like this DW two sided one below – gives you the option of a felt head on one side or a plastic head on the other side, so you can choose the sound that works best for your song.
When punching through the mix is the main objective, despite the increase in clickiness, try opting for a plastic beater head on your kick pedal for a sound that cuts through very nicely compared to the usual felt beater, but not as loudly as a metal beater.
4. Place your kick drum mic in the optimal position
As mentioned before, a good recording in the first place is the number one way to get a better kick drum sound. The less editing needed, the better it will sound in the mix, guaranteed.
To assure the best recording possible, experiment with various mic placements until you are getting the absolute best result. Make sure to use a dynamic mic when recording a kick drum.
Mic placement guidelines for a more punchy recording:
- If there is a hole in the outside head or the outside head is off, place the mic inside the drum about 2-3 inches away from the inside head and a few inches off-center.
- If the outside head is on and has no hole, place the mic a few inches away from the outside head, pointing directly at the center.
Editing Techniques for a punchy kick drum sound
If you have a good quality recording or are using a high-quality sample, the editing process is going to be much smoother. Be sure to tune your sample, if you are using one, to the root note of the key for your song.
There are various techniques and software you can use to get your kick to cut through the mix better. Most times, using a combination of a few of these will get you the result you’re after.
Editing Techniques used to improve punchiness:
- Sidechain Compression
A good kick drum sample or recording should be simple to edit and mix. If your editing process has become overcomplicated, or you are still struggling to get the kick cutting through the mix nicely, consider choosing a different sample, or getting a better recording.
5. Use Gating to reduce bleed on your kick
Mixing drums comes with a lot of creative freedom, it really is up to preference if the recording or sample being used is high quality.
If the recording has been taken in a live setting, you may find that there is a lot of unwanted bleed from the other instruments in your mix.
Some bleed can have a more authentic appeal, but depending on what music you are making, you can apply a gate to remove the unwanted bleed.
Often, to make a kick cut through the mix better, you’ll want to boost some high end frequencies to get more attack. When you’ve boosted some of these frequencies, you may start to hear cymbals, snare or other instruments appearing in your kick track if the recording was taken of a live band.This is where gating has its place for kick drums in the mix.
A noise gate will open up and only allow audio to pass through when the signal reaches a certain threshold. This means background noises and bleed from other instruments can be automated out of your kick track, but setting the threshold at just the right level, so it only opens up when the kick drum is played.
Make sure to add your gate before you EQ to avoid these unwanted frequencies making your EQ much more difficult than it needs to be.
6. Use Compression to make the kick track fatter and more consistent
Once again, depending on the style of music, there is a lot of creative freedom when using compression on your kick drum sound. Some of us don’t use any compression, but for a more punchy and fuller kick sound, even a tiny amount of compression can go a long way.
A kick drum can punch through the mix more with as little as 1db of compression. Start by using a compression ratio of 4:1 with slow attack and fast release. Slowly speed up the attack time until you are satisfied with the tightness and punchiness.
What you hear is more important than having the right numbers.
7. Use Sidechain compression on your kick with the Bass
An effective way to allow your kick to noticeably punch through the mix is to sidechain the bass to the kick of your song.
When you sidechain the bass to the kick, the sidechain compressor on the bass will automatically be triggered as the kick hits to automatically reduce the volume of the bass slightly.. This sonically allows for room in the mix to open up for the kick to shine through.
If there are other instruments in the song that are competing with the kick, like keyboards, synths or even guitars you can sidechain those to the kick as well.
8. Use EQ on your kick to improve attack and reduce boominess
Every drum mix is unique when it comes to the EQ. There are, however, some tricks from the pros to cutting and boosting various frequencies and really giving your kick a powerful punch.
EQ Tweaks for a Punchier Kick:
- Avoid excessive boominess by tweaking the 200 to 250 Hz range
- Avoid excessive boxiness by tweaking the 300 to 600 Hz range
- Boost the high-end sweet spot at 10 kHz
- Slightly boost around 1kHz by 3db
- Cut at 2 kHz by between 2-3db
- Boost at 5 kHz as needed
- Fine-tune your low end and cut out unnecessary and unpleasant frequencies (20-50Hz).
- Note: A bit of beater noise or clicking is essential for the kick to cut through. Some say getting these high-end frequencies right is even more important than getting the low end right.
Between fine-tuning your low-end, reducing muddiness, and boosting the essential high-end sweet spots, you will find an overall magic zone of punchiness for your kick.
9. Add saturation to warm up your kick
Before applying any compression or additive EQing, try playing around with the saturation to add something a little bit extra to your kick.
Saturation, when used in the right amounts, can significantly warm up your kick and add a lot of dimension and harmonic content to your mix.
If you use too much saturation, your kick will distort, but it will usually start sounding pretty good long before that happens.
Make sure to only add your saturation after you have done your subtractive EQing. You wouldn’t want to be adding harmonics to unwanted frequencies.
10. Add a Kick Sample for a more consistent punch
Drums can prove difficult to get sounding good during the editing process and you may be looking for that extra oomph! Sampling is another great way to give your kick a lot more punch, by either enhancing it, adding to it or replacing it entirely.
You can add a kick drum sample underneath your main kick to enhance it and avoid excessive EQing. Experiment until you find a sample that slots in perfectly.
Make sure all the samples that you use are in tune, even though they may already seem like they are, sometimes the difference is subtle and can seriously muddy up the final mix.
Hopefully, now, you are feeling more confident about how to get your kick cutting through your mix.
No mix is the same, so tweak away and experiment with different techniques to your heart’s content! You will hear when your kick is punchy enough when your foot starts tapping to the rhythm and you feel the sweet satisfaction of a powerful, punchy kick.