The bass drum and snare are the king and queen of the drum set in my opinion, and some of the most important and loudest parts of most songs. It is important to get the kick and snare sounding really punchy to get a good sounding overall mix. In this article I will be sharing my knowledge on how to get this punchy professional sounding kick and snare.
The Kick Drum
To start of with the kick drum or bass drum, I use a gate. I especially use a gate for live drums as there may be bleed of the other drums getting picked up by the bass drum mic. I do sometimes use a gate when I am mixing drum machines as I may want the drum to be slightly tighter or if the recording I have has some noise that I don’t need. The gate is a good way to achieve tightness and punch in a drum sound. If you gate a live recorded drum heavily, it may sound unnatural, so be sure to blend it in with the rest of the kit, especially the overhead mic(s) to get a natural sound while still retaining the quick punch.
I usually use a saturation plugin next. I use saturation when I feel that the bass drum doesn’t feel quite warm or round enough. I also use saturation to bring out the top end of the drum sound. I use saturation to do this rather than an EQ as drastic EQ changes can sound unnatural. Saturation can add a nice thump and punch that EQ and compression can’t quite achieve.
Next on the chain, I usually use a compressor. I ask myself first what exactly I want the compressor to do. In most rock and pop nowadays you really want consistency in your kick drum. Try using a ratio of about 6:1 or 8:1. Try a medium attack or short attack time, depending on what sound you want. Next I would usually play the rest of the mix and tweak the release time until the bass drum sound exactly how I want it. Not all kick drums are the same so mess around with these setting and see what works well in your mix.
Next I use an EQ. I start of by cutting away 6-8 dB around the 250 Hz – 500 Hz area. This move really cleans up the drum and makes it sound fuller and less muddy. In some cases I will use a low shelf to remove the extreme low end that lies around the 20 Hz – 30 Hz range. This gives me a lot more headroom and removes the unwanted rumble that may be picked up. In a lot of my mixes I want the beater of the kick to punch through, you can slightly boost around the 1500 Hz – 4000 Hz area to bring this top end out. Don’t boost it too much as this is where a lot of people make there kick sound unnatural. I usually use a good old R&B trick that is usually used in a lot if hip hop and R&B songs. I get a band with a narrow Q and boost is around 4 or 5 dB around the 50 Hz area. Then I get a second narrow Q band and boost it around 80 Hz another few dB. This makes the bass drum just really hit you right in the chest. It’s an R&B trick but it works in every genre. Be careful that this move doesn’t make your kick and bass guitar collide too much in the mix. An alternative to this is to make a wide Q boost of about 4 dB around the general 40 Hz – 70 Hz range. Experiment with your drum to see what works best.
That’s usually as far as I go with the kick drum.
Once again I start with a gate. This probably is the key to a punchy snare sound. Also, once again, it removes the bleed from the other drums going into your mic. Just remember, sometimes bleed coming into your mic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can really glue a mix together. Use a quick attack setting and mess around with the release and hold settings until you get the sound you want. Again, if it sounds gated and unnatural on its own, blend it in with the rest of the drum set until it sound both natural and punchy.
Saturation is usually my next move. Saturation on snare drum can lead to some really awesome results. I dial in a good bit of saturation till I hear the snare doing that familiar nearly squealing distortion sound. Then I dial back the saturation to about two thirds that amount. Let me just tell you, not many people do this, but saturation on a snare can lead to some serious punch.
I then use a compressor. I usually have a ratio of 3:1 set. Then I do a medium to slow attack. Then I play the song while tweaking the release time to taste. This brings out the body of the snare drum and adds a certain thump that I really like.
I then use an EQ. With a snare, I like a good bit of low end, so I usually remove some of the 250 Hz – 450 Hz for added lows and to clean up any muddiness. I then do a high shelf to remove extreme brightness. A lot of the time people tend to add too much high end to a snare so it pops out more. This added brightness is just a temporary illusion and actually will sound really harsh and overly bright in the mix, as well as not leaving enough space for the rest of the snare to shine through. Then I do a low shelf and remove a good bit of the low end below 70 Hz. Maybe 10 dB. This cleans up the lows I don’t need without destroying the signal. I then add a wide Q boost of around 4 dB to around 100 Hz. This just makes the snare sound so awesome. It gives it all the weight and punch it needs. If in the mix, the kick and snare are being hit at the same time, I am usually more careful of this move.
Sometimes, when people are mixing the snare, and they have a top and bottom mic, they slightly pan both left and right for some separation.
So in conclusion, I hope this article has helped you get a punchier and better sounding kick and snare drum in your mix.
Thanks for reading.
Look forward to more mixing tips soon.
Have a nice day.