Are your massive kick drums destroying your mix? – Is that even possible

Big Kick Drums are an important element to dance music styles, but can they be too big?

Kick drums that are overcooked. I’m looking at you , Techno, House and EDM Producers. Actually, the majority of electronic producers that use drums make this mistake at some point.

You’ve spent hours crafting the perfect kick drum. It sounds awesome when you’re producing. Then you mix your track and play it somewhere else and all you hear is a kick and hi hats. The middle of your track seems to be missing.

Kick drums that are too loud or too dominant, is something that mastering engineers deal with all the time.

If there’s no opportunity to go back into the mix, it can take a bit of work to bring it back down so everything sits nicely. That’s often at the expense of clarity in the finished master, loudness or a combination of both. As someone who loves producing Techno and other styles of electronic music, I get it. I’ve been guilty of this myself countless times and still do from time to time. Let’s face it, when you’re in your studio producing a track, nothing beats that kick drum in your chest feeling. We hear big kick sounds at raves, clubs and parties. We want that experience when we are producing. Getting excited while producing or writing is something you should actually aim for. It helps your creative flow. So what’s wrong with mixing like that?

Your’e way overdoing it, read below to find out why?

Producer in home studio programming kick drums in drum machine
Bass Kick showing in Fabfilter window very high above the rest of the music
Bass Kicks in Fabfilter Pro L2
These are way too high .
group of people in front of stage the can hear the kick drum

P.A systems, in clubs and at raves have subs. They have a lot of power behind them and usually reach down to ~20Hz. Near-field monitors, even 8” ones, rarely reproduce much below about 37Hz. To top that off, most of our studios are too small and have issues with bass frequencies. In small rooms standing waves create issues with bass, either too much in some spots or too little. Standing waves happen when sound waves are crashing into each other.

Contrary to popular opinion, a well tuned flat system (speakers and room) actually has a lot of bass. You probably don’t have full frequency main speakers or subs. Let alone a room big enough to prevent standing waves. So when we try and get the kicks to punch out like we hear at venues, we’re pushing them way harder than they should.

A big gap between the peak of the kick and the rest of the music, will make it hard to hear those other parts.

That doesn’t mean your kick will be or needs to be weak though.

Bass Kick in Calf Analyser window. Showing a very high peak above the m
Bass Kick on the left, nearly 20db above the rest of the music.. you can’t even see the high frequencies in this screen shot, let alone hear them (screenshot in Calf Analyzer)

So what can you do about it?

  • Be aware of it. If you know you push your kicks up high when writing or producing, think about that when it comes to mixing.
  • Check your mix
  • Use reference tracks when it comes to mixing.
  • Make room for the kick in the mix with EQ
  • Make room for the kick in the mix with side-chain compression.
  • Produce and write to give space for the kick (so you don’t have to worry about it as much when mixing)

Oh and if you are mixing as your produce, then it’s time to try something different. Separate the processes of producing and mixing. You’ll make better decisions for both. They are best done with different mindsets. (and mastering is a separate mind set yet again).

A not so well-kept secret of mastering engineers, is that we don’t want to process the crap out of your mixes. A little bit of a nip and tuck if necessary and some sugar dust is what we want to do. The more a mastering engineer needs to address issues, the less they can do to bring out the best in a song. We love our job when it’s less than half a db of EQ to apply in a couple of places. It’s even better when adding the subtlest amount of compression or saturation make a track sparkle. We love hearing well produced and well recorded and mixed music.

So, every couple of weeks, I’m going to go into a bit more depth about how you can get better at mixing your kicks and your bass. Next topic, we’ll go into how to use reference tracks to make sure your bass level is right.

There’s lots of information out there, but I’m going to try and make it simple to follow.

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