We hope that, with this article, you will understand how to EQ a kick drum whenever you come across it in your mix.
In short, a proper recording process could easily save you from unnecessary steps on the mixing stages. Maintain your drum kit and service your analog drum machines as often as possible and pay attention to the gear you’re recording with.
When you’ve decided what particular equalizer to use, start with a low cut on 30-40 Hz, boost somewhere around 50 Hz for powerful subs, and 100 Hz for a modern low-end. Clean up some midrange frequencies if necessary, add punch by boosting 1,5 kHz, scoop 10 kHz to maintain warmth, and cut off everything below 10 kHz.
Start with a perfect recording
Essentially an equalizer changes the timbre of the sound, so it’s obvious that if you achieve a perfect timbre on the production stages, the less manipulation with the said timbre would be required.
Of course, an equalizer is a very powerful tool that can fix many recording mistakes, but it doesn’t mean that you can be reckless and inattentive while recording. Moreover, the amount of work you’ll put into the recording process will be equal to the amount of effort and time you will end up saving in the mixing later on.
So, believe it or not, to avoid more work, you’ll have to do even more work.
Maintain your kit
As counterintuitive as it may sound, a perfect recording of the drum set starts with keeping it in a working condition at all times. We have to make sure that everything is properly adjusted, keeping especially careful attention to the plastics since they have to be perfectly tuned and undamaged.
You may think that this doesn’t concern you if you’re using a drum machine or a sample library, but you’d be wrong since analog drum machines need occasional maintenance too, and when it comes to samples libraries, you have to make sure that they are of a quality that suits you the most.
Treat your room
The space that you record your drums in is as important as the drums itself. So you have to make sure that your room is decently treated and there are no unwanted reflections.
Moreover, if you often record acoustic instruments and not just drums, acoustic treatment becomes a necessary step because you clearly don’t want to spend countless hours trying to fix mistakes that could be easily avoided in the first place.
For electronic producers, the tone of the room doesn’t matter that much, but still, you may consider investing in decent instrument cables for your beloved drum machine.
Choose the right mic
Of course, the timbre of a kick drum matters a lot but what matters even more is the ability to capture it properly. What particular mic would be the best for a kick drum in a certain situation is a topic for a whole other article, and, at that, much larger than this one.
But while we’re on the topic, you may consider using a microphone that captures fast transients decently if you want a more modern and snappy kick. But if a full and warm kick is what you desire, some vintage mics with a mid boost would make more sense.
Align and adjust
If your mix doesn’t shine as it should, sometimes it’s not a problem of timbre or dynamic response, sometimes the performance itself may be in the way of a perfect mix. Listen to your recording very carefully and see if there’re some time mistakes or phase misalignment.
If this is the case, it might be a good idea to fix it before you start EQing because, in the end, it may drastically mess with your perception. Try to quantize your tracks using a specially designed digital tool or simply by hand. And after you’ve also fixed phase alignment issues, you may begin to apply your favorite EQ plugin.
How to EQ a kick drum
An equalizer is a very straightforward yet powerful tool that allows us to subtract the volume of certain frequencies or add it to others. What particular equalizer you would use doesn’t really matter as long as it’s capable of said functionality, but as a general rule, transparent digital equalizers are perfect for precision and vintage analog emulations are very good at adding a certain flavor and feel.
So choosing one equalizer over the other would be an artistic choice and a matter of personal preference. But whatever equalizer you would choose, the principles that we would apply to the kick drum would still remain the same.
Filter the low end
Although a kick drum is designed to, first and foremost, produce low frequencies, interestingly enough, there are a lot of those that we don’t actually need. Usually, sub frequencies below 30-40 Hz don’t carry much useful information, if any at all.
So putting a low-cut filter somewhere within this frequency range would make a lot of sense, especially if you consider that most consumer audio devices are incapable of producing those frequencies. And, moreover, even if you wouldn’t hear a noticeable difference, you may very easily find that your kick drum and the mix, in general, began to sound much clearer and pronounced.
Boost for more weight
If you want to emphasize a low end of your kick drum, boosting it would be a perfect solution. If you want a very deep and heavy-weighted kick, add volume to the frequencies somewhere around 50 Hz. And if you’re aiming for a more modern rock-kick, boosting somewhere around 100 Hz would make more sense.
But be warned though, although it seems like a pretty straightforward task, you have to remember that bass guitar occupies the same frequency range and compromises have to be made. To avoid frequency masking, frequencies that you boost on a kick drum should be cut on a bass guitar, or you could just boost different frequency ranges on both instruments.
Clear the midrange
Muddy and boomy mixes are a very common problem, especially for beginner audio engineers. The thing is that although most instruments occupy their own frequency range, they all tend to intersect and a very unpleasant build-up occurs.
Your kick may sound absolutely perfect if you listened to it without a context, but as soon as you put it in the mix, you will clearly hear if it sounds muddy or boomy. To fix the issue, you can make a very wide cut somewhere within 150-300 Hz, but do it very carefully since too much of a cut can very easily make your kick lose its energy and sound too thin.
Add more punch in the upper midrange
Although a primary function of a kick drum is to deliver low-end information, there’s still a lot of very useful harmonics in the upper-frequency range. And by a very unlucky coincidence, the initial transients of a kick drum also could be found within this frequency range.
A very narrow boost somewhere around 1.5 kHz could add a lot of punch to the sound of a kick drum and make it cut through the mix more noticeably. But note that this boost should be strategic since a compression that would be next in the chain also is very capable of enhancing transients.
Clean up the upper midrange
Despite that, we established that this frequency range is very useful, it also could as easily provide us with some minor inconveniences. Neighboring the initial transients is a very small and sneaky frequency range that adds noticeable harshness to the sound.
To understand this particular harshness, try to imagine someone very quickly slicing a piece of plastic foam. It’s not very hard to deduce that you don’t want this to occur on your kick drum and the best solution to eliminate the problem would be to make a very precise cut, somewhere around 2 kHz.
Clean the high end
Cleaning up the high end is a totally optional step, but still, it could be very beneficial for the whole mix. By its nature, the kick drum doesn’t provide a lot of information in the high-frequency range except for a few harmonics here and there.
So you can very easily cut everything below 10 kHz and although on a kick without a context, there may not be an audible difference, if you put it back in the mix, you can easily hear that it started to sound just a bit cleaner. It’s not a very drastic change, but still, such attention to minor details could easily bring your mixing skills to the next level.