I’ve often been asked, how to make kick drum sound better? The answer has a bit to do with personal taste and mix goals. However, I’m going to show you a simple technique that has the power to give your kick drum that extra shine. This is something that will work with both an acoustically recorded kick or samples from a virtual instrument.

// Transcript //

In this episode of the show, I wanna talk you about how you can make your kick drum sound better. That's coming up on Home Music Studio 1.

Alright! Hey guys, Dave Maxey. Welcome back to the show. As always, this is the place where you can learn to produce professional quality home music studio recordings and you can do that even on a limited budget. You can also find me online at homemusicstudio1.com

So I want to show you a really simple tip here today working with kick drum really how to make your kick drum sound better. It’s a little bit tongue and cheek with that statement because sound better is relative right. We all might have different goals, depending on the kick drum sound you're after but this is a technique that you might not have considered.

I'm working on a project here. In fact in my last video, I showed you a little bit of what I’ve done with the keys in the piano sound in this project and here’s kind of what I am running into. I'm starting to now build the drum tracks I got really all my MIDI laid out of the drum tracks. If you’ve been around homemusicstudio1.com for any length of time, you know I'm a big fan of the Addictive Drums, virtual instrument, which is what I’m building this project with.

What I’m noticing is that my kick drum sounds great but I don’t want a metal sounding kick drum with a really high tick kind of beater sounding that would really cut through the mix but really just takes the genre of the song to a different direction. Nor do I want to really really super warm, kind of RNB kick where it’s lots and lots of lows but not a whole lot of definition. I'm kind of trying to find somewhere in between.  A little bit of the sound here what I’m dealing with. Here's my kick drum. (Drum sound)...

Truthfully that kick drum sounds really great. It’s got a lot of meat to it. We definitely have some definition going on but it's just missing a little something for what I'm after to really pop out of that mix. So let me let you hear you this in the context of what I have. So far, I got an acoustic in here. I haven't done much else but work on the drums, I've got a little bit of the piano, Acoustic, a little bit of the bass line, kind of give you an idea of what we're working with. Let’s listen.. (Music plays)...

Okay, so all in all that really sounds good but this is a technique that you can use in your project to really helps that kick drum just kind of shine a little bit more in the mix so you can tell this to your face. I’m also gonna say I’m gonna show you how i do this in addictive drums but I’m also gonna show another way that you can do this if you’re not using addictive drums, so stick with me. Really, the first thing I’m gonna do, just to by way of explanation,

I’ve got a few things happening here. I’m using the multiple out with the addictive drums plug in. If you’re using a different VSTI, no doubt you got a similar functionality. I’m using the multiple outs in post fader mode and what that does is it means that faders here inside the plug in actually bring my volumes up or down in correlation with to this direct outs. Okay. I’m using both the channel and the master output and the reason I’m doing that is all of this channel output individually to their own channel and then they all output to this master channel so I’m kind of getting’ away with a little bit of a kind of a sloppy way to do parallel compression, that’s a little tidbit there.

I am doing actual parallel compression in the buzz mix. So you can see I got certain drums that are set. I'm not doing my high hat, I’m not doing 80's flex channel cause I don’t actually have anything in there right now other than this little cowbell right. I’m not using the cowbell though in the mix. But a little bit of parallel compression, of course I got my room mic and everything happening. And this is the sound of the kit that you’re getting. You can hear exactly or see exactly what I’m doing EQ wise.

What I’m really gonna do to kinda help this kick sound better in the mix is add a little bit of distortion to the top end of the kick drum. Now, keep in mind that the distortion we’re gonna add it directly to the channel itself of just the kick. So that means this is not overtaking all of the tracks that are making up my kick drums sound. In other words, I’ve got kick drum a little bit of the top in my overhead mic.

I’ve got a little of that kick drum that is happening in my room microphones. A little bit of the kick definitely is being actually quite of a kick is being parallel compressed in the buzz mix. Those are all elements that are making up the sound of my kick drums. So those are kind of are kind of freebies for you, if you think a little bit of how I’m processing these. What we’re doing then is this direct channel output for just the kick drum.

We want to add a little bit of distortion and/or saturation depending on what you have available. To do that in addictive drum is pretty simple, I just go over here to my kick drum, click on my compression and distortion, I’m already compressing this and I’m just going to add a little bit of this heavy distortion on there. I’m going to control the amount. I’m going to exaggerate this a litte bit so you can hear what we’re dealing with. Let’s go ahead and solo just the kick drum and I’m going to boost up the volume up on this so you can hear a little bit more of what we got going on, let’s listen. (Drum Sound)...

Okay. So you can definitely hear hopefully you got decent headphones on or studio monitors you can hear the break up happening. One of the things I’m doing is I’ve got this guy right here. This is a high-pass filter of this effect so what this is saying is anything below where this bottom and the set is not getting distorted. I’m trying to really keep that distortion out of the girth of the bottom and I kick drums which is right around that 60 hertz for this particular kick-drum, somewhere right around in there.

Of course I have exaggerated that quite a bit. What I really want to do is have just a tiny bit of break up on kind of that upper low end to all the way to my high end of that kick drum really. For the most part, somewhere around that 78 kHz is really about this maximum is what I need to go in this case, I will try somewhere around in there and I'm going to push this up to where I can hear it that break up, and then just back the amount down a little bit. I've got my mix 50%. This kind of balances that dry signal with a little bit of this distortion, let's listen again. (Drum sound)...

Okay! I've got this is a little bit exaggerated because I wanted to hear this effect. Now what I'm going to do is listen to this in the context of my project and I'm going to kind of adjust that amount there so I can hear that kick just shine a little bit more in the mix so let's listen. (Music starts)...

Hopefully, you can hear the difference there. It's a subtle change that just adds a little bit of that high-end harmonic distortion if you will, a little bit of saturation, kind of helps that shine through the mix. If you don't have Addictive Drums and you've got any other virtual instrument or even recorded an acoustic drum kit and you just deal with a straight-up Kick Drum, there's another way that we can accomplish the same thing here.

This is a free VSTI right here. Actually, I’ve got a couple of different options. I believe not just be VSTI, looks like audio units RTAS, this is a great little plug-in from Clang help the IVGI, it's saturation and or distortion. Love this little guy. It's not something you can use on every track but it has some great uses particularly in this case. So I'm going to basically do the same effect here but I'm going to add this directly to the kick drum track itself okay. Out right now, it's disabled so we're going to kick this on and now listen to this track here, kind of exaggerated a little bit so we can hear what this guy's doing here. (Drum Starts)...

Okay, so you can hear the break up there. And the neat thing about this plug-in here is I can tailor the response where I want that saturation happens. I've got this pushed up on the high frequency so it's kind of responding more, it's kind of distorting and that saturation, the high end of the mix and so what I'm going to do is just kind of find the point where it breaks up here a little bit and then back it down and then we’ll listen to this in the context of our mix again and see what we need to tweak. (Drum sound)...

Okay! Let's go ahead and do a little bit of A-B in the mix. Now you noticed I've got the mix option here right up and down, you know 50% more or less. Let's go and take a listen in the context of the mix now. (Music starts)...Okay!

There you have it guys. Super easy technique to do and depending on the style that you're working with and get a lot of great sounds to really help that kick drum sound much better or really kind of punch through your mix a little bit. I'll put the link to this description here so you can download this free VST if you're so interested and depending on the project that you're working on. So with that, if you have not yet Hicks, click subscribe on this YouTube video.

I wanna invite you to do that. Let's other people know this content and hopefully know someone that's this can be helpful to you and also share this video and then if you've yet to join us in my free affordable home recording tips newsletter, I want to invite you to click the link in the bottom of this video.

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I'm going to send my free e-book out to you entitled “Understanding Compression In The Hole Music Studio”, just as a thank you. With that guys, we’ll hopefully be making better recordings and until next time, this is Dave Maxey with Home Music Studio One.

    5 replies to "How To Make Kick Drum Sound Better"

    • Jason

      Adding distortion to the kick is a cool idea! Never thought of that before…thanks for sharing!


    • David Papple

      Good article avid! Excellent insight into some of the AD2 controls along with the Kick Drum info.

    • Craig Robart

      I’ve always wondered what those saturation plugins were for. Now I know.

    • Dave Cannon

      Nice! Never thought about distortion on a kick drum.

    • Wayne Stalling

      Great information, it really works.

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