We’re kicking off our “Taking It Apart” series with the kick drum! Poetic, I know. And since it’s often channel #1 on the board, it’s makes for an easy starting point.
Three parts to the sound of a kick drum, as I hear it, are the “thud”, the “ring”, and the “attack”. In fact, these three sounds are found in the sonic palette of every drum! Let’s take a look at them one-by-one.
The “thud” is the burst of low frequencies that flows out of the drum when it’s hit. It’s the part of the sound that hits you in the chest at a loud concert and is largely responsible for the “pulse” of a song. There’s certainly a “heartbeat” analogy going on with the kick drum and, in fact, a modern produced kick drum sounds not unlike a human heart! The “thud” of a kick drum can be found around 50-150 Hz, usually with the low frequency knob on your mixer.
The “ring” is the sound of the drum recovering from being smashed by its over-ambitious user. It’s the resonant pitch of the drum that continues on, for a whole second sometimes, after the initial impact. In rock music the kick drum has very little ring. A pitched kick drum is undesirable and some frequencies in this range can make the drum sound “boxy” so the resonant drum head is usually muffled or even removed to tone it down. If you’re hearing a distinct “ring” and the band is playing straight time (i.e. not jazz!) you should talk to the drummer to see if you can tame it at the source. These frequencies are typically cut around 200-400 Hz. Or if you have lots of EQ bands available, you may try two progressively smaller cuts at 200 Hz and 400 Hz, respectively, or even a third in the series at 800 Hz.
The “attack” is the sound of the pedal beater striking the drum head. It sounds like “click” and can vary in loudness depending on style. The “attack” is the kick drum’s all-important representation in the mid range, where our hearing is most attuned, somewhere between 3.5-6 kHz. Lots of “attack” will make the drums sound aggressive; too little will leave you with a wash of bass frequencies without presence or focus. The “attack” also tends to disappear if the drum isn’t hit very hard, so make sure your drummer’s energy levels are up during soundcheck!
The kick drum is very foundational in a mix. Listening for the right balance of “thud”, “ring” and “attack” can help guide you to the sound you’re after for the real heart-throb on stage: the kick drum.
Stay tuned for our next installment … the snare drum!