Getting punchy kick drums is a good resolve for almost any mix.
You need kick drums that can cut through a mix well enough to create a good impression. This is because kick drums are the basis of most modern music.
Having a punchy kick will add depth, grit, body and excitement to your mix. Therefore a kick drum has to have a notable presence.
This is a tricky subject because most people think improving the punch of kick is correlated to boosting its low end, but having an over powering low end will do more harm than good because it will eat up too much headroom.
You need a kick to be substantially punchy but not too overpowering to obstruct other sounds in the mix.
Here are some techniques you can apply to make your kick drums punchy.
Moderate your limiter
A limiter when used improperly can skew the punch in your kicks.
You’ll also notice that a limiter can basically limit your whole mix too much which is why you have to take note of it.
Most Digital Audio Workstations come with a default limiter on the master which is usually a stock plugin with pre-modified parameters.
These parameters may need to be adjusted to fit your mix and to bring out your kicks and other elements of you may need to swap out the limiter entirely.
Usually you’ll have to increase the gain on your limiter a bit in order to get much more volume from your sounds without distorting them.
Therefore checking the effects on your master channel should be the first thing you do before you even start thinking about what methods to employ in order to make your kick drums punch harder.
Another great way to give your resulting kick punch harder is to give a bit more edge by layering it with another kick.
This strategy works across the board with other drum elements too. All you need to do is find a kick that you can layer over your first kick so they both hit at the same time.
Doing this will thicken your kick drum much more and will give it more punch.
You just have to be careful with this method because not all kicks can be paired.
For example, electronic kicks from genres like EDM don’t really work well when they are paired or layered with other kicks.
The conflict between two layered electronic kick drums is easy to notice by ear.
Give the kick room
Another great way to bring out your kick drums so they can hit harder is to basically use EQ the right way.
Therefore how you use EQ to bring out your Kick is to basically shape other elements properly by leaving head room for the kick to properly cut through.
The first step is to use a spectrum analyser to get a good idea of the frequency range that your kick drum covers.
Second step is then to make sure you don’t have sounds that are bleeding into the low end.
Most digital sounds such as pads cover a wide frequency including part of the low end, cutting off these low end frequencies can allow the bass and kick to properly cut through.
This is just one example but it gives you the general idea of what should be done to allow your kicks to pierce through.
Saturation is a subtle form of distortion that introduces harmonics and warmth to a sound.
You can add saturation to your kick drums to give them more grit, warmth and punch. Essentially all saturation will do for your kicks is to increase and brighten the frequencies they already have.
After applying saturation you can the lower the gain down to moderate the volume.
Another great technique that can help you make your kicks that much more punchy is by using sidechaining.
Particularly on bass.
Here you basically have to sidechain your bass to your kick so that it ducks when the kick hits.
In most cases, the bass tends to make kicks sound a lot more shallow and they can easily be drowned along with other soundS.
This is why you can simply sidechain it so it let’s the kick hit when the bass ducks.
Use the right kick
Something worth saying in this post is that the first step in having good kicks, is choosing the right kicks to work with.
Most kicks that are found in sample packs come pre-mastered and pre-processed which will mean that you should pay attention your selection.
If you use the wrong kick, further enhancing it can can crush it to bits and make it distort.
Therefore picking the right kick with enough punch should be at the heart of your process.
Some kicks make it very difficult to enhance them and other times some kicks simply cannot be layered with other kicks to make them hit harder because they would generally fight each other, due to frequency conflict.
Use a soft limiter
The best way to make your kicks punch harder is using a soft limiter or soft clipper on them.
This will generally make them hit harder whilst giving them a ceiling that doesn’t allow them to distort.
You can also use this technique on your master channel to let your sounds have the freedom to cut through and reach their peak without going over 0DB.
This is great way to deal with your kick and your bass.
What you’ll essentially have to do is route your kick and bass to a channel that we’ll call the Kick bass Bus, then afterward you’d add a little bit of bus compression.
You can then bring down your ratio to about four, and then bring down your threshold until you get about 2 dB of gain reduction. You can then use make up gain to bring back the gain by 2dB because thats what it was reduced by.