How to Make Punchy Kick Drums

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Finding the right kick drum is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Not a normal haystack, but the big ones at a farm with the liftable roof on top of it. Having more and more of them won’t solve this. Every record asks for a tailor-made kick and the more kick drums you have, the more time it takes to find the right one, which you’ll probably won’t find anyway. If like me you start a record with the kick drum, chances are it gets replaced later in the project, to fit better with the rest of the drums. So what are the options? You can just grab a kick drum and hope for the best, but if that’s your tactics on producing, you are probably not serious about what you’re doing. You can grab a kick drum that sounds OK for what you are looking for and process it till your CPU starts crumbling. You will probably end up with a decent kick, but again, not with what you are looking for. But if you need a lot of processing on a single drum sound, your sample just isn’t good enough and you should look for a better one. I always try to keep processing to a minimum, especially on drum sounds, since it’s easy to go overboard fast in the mixing stage, leading to destroying the overall balance and sound of the record, since you’re going to try to get everything in harmony with the kick drum, that suddenly sounds totally different. One of the major traps in mixing is that when you change the sound of a sample you’re thinking it sounds so much better when in reality it sounds worse. 

Let’s keep this short and cut to the chase. Layering is by far my favorite way to go for getting a solid kick drum. What is a solid kick drum? For me, this is a kick drum with a phat bottom end but not muddy, a nice midsection that adds a lot of character and a good punch/attack that stands out in the mix, and gives a record the energy that it needs. I always keep my kicks a bit short so the bassline has more room to do its work. Below is a screenshot of my new record called “Ready For The Breakdown”, which will be released at the end of July on Midnight Funk Records. It’s an energetic record with rolling drums which asked for a strong kick drum.

The breakdown

‘Kick mid’ is a kick drum with a very strong midsection, but it lacked bottom end. The midsection had a raw warehouse edge to it, which really pops out in my mix and a good attack, which added to the energy of the kick drum. The first equalizer is for this kick drum. There hardly were any low frequencies with this kick, but I’ve cut the low end to take away any mud just to be save, and boosted the frequencies a bit around 1800 Hz to make the character stand out more.

‘Kick bottom’ has a strong bottom end that really makes the subs work. The mid frequencies suck, but with ‘Kick mid’ layered with, t it sounds perfect. A nice and full kick with a strong bottom end and great character. Again, I boosted the kick drum a bit. This time around 450 Hz or so to make the punch even better. Sometimes it’s better to cut the high freqs as well so they don’t interfere with the freqs of the mid section kick, but it wasn’t needed with this record. Ears decide what’s needed for your record to sound good, not rules. Also, I took away some of the low frequencies to avoid muddiness.

‘Kick 808’ to the rescue! After the record was done I still felt like the kick drum needed a bit more bass to stand out in the mix. An 808 kick always does the trick for me. As you can see the attack is set slow so the punch comes from the first two kicks and then the sub sound from the 808 slides in, making this a kick that makes the subs work. The kick drum in it’s whole is pretty short, it’s completely silent when the hihat comes in. For every record it’s different, so always play with the length of the kick drum.

I didn’t render the kick drums in the project as one single kick because I added the other two kick drums later in the process. I did however render it for my own sample base, so I will have a lot of tailor-made Ramoon kick drums which I can use and tweak in other records. I prefer to render the kick drums and add other processing like compression to the rendered kick drum instead of processing the kick drums separate, but that’s just personal workflow. Apart from equalizing and compression I hardly process my kick drums.

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