This might be a really boring post, but I’m mixing a lot at the moment and don’t really have anywhere to talk about things I’m trying/ discovering…
My usual tactic (I know “it depends on the song”, but I’m usually mixing my own stuff…) is to give the kick plenty of sub weight 40-80hz, the bass guitar gets power roughly 80-150, and the kick gets scooped in the low mids to make room for guitars etc, with a decent treble boost to get clicky attack & clarity.
But last night I decided to get out my comfort zone, because aesthetically I really like records where the kick has more of a knock and some midrange space to have some sustain and tone. And I think I prefer it, and have been an idiot, mixing deliberately badly for 10 years.
I gave the kick some 200hz, and didn’t scoop out midrange. Didn’t boost the subs like I normally do, other than giving it a little thump way down at like 40hz.
And it had a few surprising knock on effects that I enjoyed
The bottom end was less dynamic (more bass guitar playing sustained notes, less kick punching subs ) which made it easier to control. The kick didn’t need as much high end click, which made the entire drum kit feel bigger and left space at the front of the mix for the vocal - I find the aggressive high boosts of heavier music have the effect of pulling the drums forward and making them sound smaller as a result. It actually meant I could compress the kick more too - I think when the kick is all click and subs, compression quickly makes it sound small and… “Lumpy”…I can’t really describe it better than that, but it starts to feel unnatural. Whereas with the kick having more midrange energy, compression was bringing out tone and controlling it better without causing problems.
Anyways… would be interesting to read other’s thoughts on the low end relationship.
That is an interesting point because what you’re doing is questioning yourself in a constructive way. Habits are dangerous and while some top mixers have their own personal sound on pretty much everything they mix, I think that what makes a great mixer is his ability to approach every single song with fresh ears and a fresh mind, considering all possibilities and exploring those that serve the song better even though they might be conflicting with their own habits and/or academic rules.
Sorry if I’m not answering the question directly but I just wanted to emphasize your point, as I’ve been relying on habits too much myself for some time.
Funny, because I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately to kick drums, and your statement about “depends on the song” seems to be right, but in some ways the weight of the kick can really drive the song or at least the sound and groove of the song. In rock music, I’m always astounded at how little bottom end is put on the kick. Even a classic like When the Levee Breaks be Zeppelin, with it’s absolutely infamous kick drum isn’t that weighty down at the bottom end.
My preference at the moment is prog rock, and depending on what era / song / band, I swear the kick drum was actually recorded as somebody hitting the bottom of a Pringle can with their pinky. Literally nothing there apart from a “thwuck” sound.
Overall, I think my favourite kick drum sound is on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album. There’s just something about how much low end that album has, and how the bass just wraps around the kick drum. Most of the time you forget that there’s a kick drum there and you just feel this thump in your chest while listening to the music. I know it’s not a rock sound, but it’s what I’m aiming for at the moment.
Hey… if you get a chance, throw an audio clip up, even if its only a minute or so
I go the other way around. Kick gets as much space as kick desires, and guitars move out of the way.
I try and get a lot of that bite and gritty ‘knock’ with tuning up multi-band saturation. SoundToys Decapitator and PA VSM3 are typically my go-to’s for kick saturation. For 3 reasons: 1 - the distortion frequency ranges are sweepable, 2 - the distortion has a parallel 3-the amount of distortion is adjustable. Any plugin will do this, but those two make it real fast and easy to get it dialed in. (For me anyway).
I’ve heard jokes about 800 being called the anti-CLA frequency because he scoops it out of EVERYTHING lol. (Sure I know that’s not true), but I thought it was funny when I heard it.
I boost a lot of 600-1k on the bass, and throw heavy parallel distortion on it to get it to cut through in pop/rock/country mixes. That’s the only way I know how to guarantee that it’ll show up in the place it needs to on thin laptop speakers or earbuds, but be present. There’s a good thread on this I’ll post a link to for bass.
I still use the old VU trick where you set your kick to average around -3 soloed, then when you solo kick+bass, if you’re tonally balanced, the meter should jump to about 0 to +1 when playing along with the kick.
This approach does of course assume that neither kick nor bass have an overload of low end. That would cause the meters to give you a false positive, ultimately defeating the purpose of using the -3/+1 trick.
I’ve been trying to adjust my approach to the low end of the mix to create a more modern sound. Lately the fashion seems to be to have HUGE kick drums - meaning TONNES of sub bass - previously unheard of in rock - leaning mixes. For eg:
I’ve had some success with other people’s mixes. For example: This one:
But I’ve really been struggling with my own stuff to “update” the low end. This thread tracks a little of my…er… progress:
Tchad Blake is the master of HUGE beefy kicks that aren’t all spikey up the top. Check out the latest Black Keys stuff for that. Distorting the midrange seems to be an important key… still working on it, though.
It is really hard to follow the soup du jour on kick drums. I don’t really like the whole click and sub regimen that seems to be prevalent. I like the beater to sound like felt instead of wood. I guess Zep would be a good example, but that sound could be given an update without losing its impact. Carving everything out except for sub and click sounds fake to me, but what do I know?
Here’s where I got last night. I ended up pushing midrange forward on a few tracks and that kinda pushed the kick back a bit. I’m going to try adding some more overt distortion, it’s mostly getting it from the 1176 its going through & Airwindows “buscolors4” which I’ve been LOVING recently for saturation. I know Decapitator is awesome on kicks, so I’ll start with that.
It’s crazy how much overall eq tastes shift over the years - a lot of my flac quality music collection is from my CD collection which only really goes up to about 2010 before I stopped bothering to rip stuff, and started getting far fewer physical CDs. Referencing is a minefield because stuff I love from the '90s is often comparatively bass light and transient heavy, then you get into the 2000s and stuff gets mixed purely to be as loud as possible, which has its own eq curve + clipped snare hits etc. It changes the way things sit. A lot of the stuff I’ve been into the last few years I’ve discovered through Spotify, which does have its own sound to a degree, but I’ve noticed a lot more subs, a trend for less sparkle on top, and often a bit less of that clangy, crangy upper midrange that was de vogue 15 years ago.
Of course, something like a John Bonham drum sound only works when there’s space in the arrangement to fit the room around the drums to give them that tone and size. Take something like Immigrant song - “update” it by upping the gain on the guitars, making them more full range, triple tracking them… and suddenly that drum tone would be distant thuds.
I don’t want to be unduly nostalgic for the sound of eras gone, but I wish there was less pressure to conform to the standards of the day, and when I do a sanity check of jumping through a bunch of songs I love from different eras while mixing, all I really learn is how different things can sound, how over the map they are in volume, frequency response, balance etc…
I guess if you’re mixing professionally you have to follow the herd, but there’s certainly merit in making it your own sound.
I also think that to a certain extent we tend to dissect things more than listeners do. They don’t isolate the kick drum before they decide if they like the song.
It’s a trade off (like most things). If your beater has a felt sound then the entire kick has to be very high in the mix in order for the definition to be heard, and that brings its own problems. Other options are:
Have it lower in the mix but accept that not every beat is going to be heard.
Have it even lower in the mix where is there is no definition, just an awareness of its presence (this one would make run out the room. I need clarity!)
The method I have developed over the years is to have a parallel ‘click’ on the kick which can be raised up and down for optimum clarity and minimum intrusion. It can also be automated if the kick gets lost in a few places due to other stuff going on (or lowered in a sparse section where the click isn’t needed so much). The advantage here is that the automation doesn’t take the kick itself up in level and thus interfere with other mix elements, it just adds some extra definition when and where necessary.
Good idea. Good to hear from you.
Part of the point is to create a sound you like and not get caught up in a current production trend. Be original, get a great kick sound, but realize that by itself won’t fix a song that doesn’t hit home.
Your method solves the clarity issue and is very flexible, and you have the ears to make it work.
Sometimes I wonder with kick… when you’re mixing it, it’s hard to accept that it’s something you feel as much as hear, and you really try to listen into the mix for it, and if you think you need to try too hard you make it louder or punchier or clicker or whatever…
But if you’re a listener just enjoying the track as a whole, you don’t do that. You just enjoy it as it is, and I don’t think anyone has trouble knowing where the kick is if it’s something you feel/ are aware of as much as clearly hear.
I think of various productions where the kick isn’t that obvious - U2 rarely have clicky kicks, BRMC’s first album is murky as anything, Bowie’s Heroes (though now old) you can barely hear the kick at all… but in all cases, I know exactly what it’s doing and had no problem understanding its musical function even when I knew nothing about being a musician or mixing or anything.
Maybe a late reply in this topic but I have a thing for songs where the kick is used to hammer out a rhythm in the bass. So as I have it in my mind the bass and kick are tuned so that they are “matching” so let’s say you tuned the kick or loosened to E for example so that the tone of the beater then matches the tone of E muted on the bass instrument. The bass then sets a wall of sound that the beater now pops through and can give the illusion that the bass is playing a slightly different line, almost like ghost notes. Then if the Kick and Bass pattern are similarlly accented this punch arises by the bass being backed by the kick in certain places. I noticed this in songs like Fantasy and I’ll Write A Song by EWF. I like a lot of the older music where there was so much innovation going on across the genres, modern da though I see the resurgence of the synths and moogs so maybe it is all coming back around. In the island here bass is heavilly emphasised in music and also the kick. So those are usually the two complaints you may find, need more bass need more kick. We haven’t got to the need more cowbell though… yet.
great sounding examples, went and compared to the mentioned When the Levee Breaks and it sounded anemic…weird.
there is definitely a “sound” that mysteriously evolves and changes in the business of recording. the shorter attention span requires more changes, more sounds, which is kind of pop in general, fast, modern… with the current super low freqs on most every genre.
man… my “reference trcks” are frkn ancient really… listening to Too Close to Fire has so much going on, its great, but its almost a collage of sounds vs a old 4 pc band playing a song in 1967. lol
I went back to listen to Levee as well just now, on some actual speakers. Now this is hard to explain, but the amount of space between the kick, the guitar, and bass make it sound massive. I turned up the volume and it just filled up my living room. It’s a text book example of big sound filling up a room. I then stuck on some new fangled modern type music that I like - full of sub and low and low-mid sounds. Chest thumping to be sure, but the best analogy I can give to the Levee sound and the fuller modern sound is the modern bass and kick combination makes me feel like I’m being pinned up the the back wall in my room getting pounded by low end across my ear drums. The Zeppelin sound makes me feel like I’m in a huge arena with the sound all around me.
That’s a great description. Part of Led Zeps’ massive sound was letting each instrument have a space carved out. By today’s standards, Page’s guitar is fairly light on gain and doesn’t interfere with the low end at all. If you watch an old YouTube video from the same era, his live guitar sound gets woofy, but is generally really bright. The bass can be really muddy, as can the kick drum. The studio recordings show that they knew what they were doing. The kick drum sounds big, but it isn’t using a lot of sub frequencies. The bass has some definition, and when the kick and bass hit together it sounds huge. The total is more than the parts. Modern recordings use a lot of sub frequencies which most listening environments, other than clubs and arenas, really won’t handle. Top that off with pop music needing to be compatible with ear buds to get to the audience and you end up with a lot of non musical stuff happening down there.
Another obsession of mine at the moment is Mr Tame Impala himself. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic with his previous albums, but his latest one (The Slow Rush) has been on repeat in my house for a while now. I sit and study his use of delay and reverb on vocals like a religion. But he might be the link between modern trends and 70’s drums:
This particular song has quite a thick low end, but the drums are lovely. I was always afraid to push saturation on drums too far, thinking I didn’t want it sounding too distorted. After listening to this album I realised my drum sound was actually covered in Saran Wrap. To damn smooth with virtually no character whatsoever. The album is worth a listen because Mr Kevin Parker is a real fan of drums and each track is a real insight into choice of drums, and mixing of said drums.