As professional music producers with years of experience in the music industry, we can certainly tell you about the importance of using compressors with Kick Drums to enhance the overall sound of your music.
If you have spent some time working on instruments and the post-production of the music production, you will know that the kick drum is the foundation of a song's rhythm section, and it is one of those instruments that can make or break your music. Hence, today, we will discuss the Compressor Settings for Kick Drum and everything you need to know about it.
Now compressor is a tool that can control the dynamic range of an audio signal by reducing the volume of the loudest parts of the sound in a track. We’ve seen this firsthand while doing vocal compression settings. This eventually allows music producers to have consistent volume and add sustain to the track.
When it comes to mixing a kick drum, there are several compressor settings for Kick Drum that a music producer must consider.
The first and foremost compressor setting for Kick drum that you should master is ‘Threshold’. It is that pre-set level, after which the compressor will start compressing the incoming audio signal.
When setting the threshold for a kick drum, the music producer should find the precise point where the compressor engages only on the loudest parts of the kick drum, such as the initial transient. Setting the correct threshold will ensure that the compressor is not reducing the volume of the kick drum sound and only the loudest parts of the track.
The compressor's ratio will decide how much gain reduction will be applied once the audio level has crossed the threshold. In simple words, a ratio of 2:1 will reduce the input of every 2 decibels (dB) after the threshold by 1dB in the output audio signal.
While setting the ratio is more of a trial-and-error-based compressor setting for the Kick drum, a good starting point is a ratio of 4:1 or 6:1 which provides enough gain reduction to add sustain and consistency to the sound without making it sound too compressed and digitized.
Attack time will decide how quickly the compressor starts compressing the incoming signal after it has crossed the threshold. During bass compression, it made a huge difference in the outputs.
Attack time plays an important role if you want a natural-sounding compressed track. Allowing the initial transient to pass through uncompressed while still engaging the compressor in time to add sustain and control to the sound is critical. A good starting point for the attack time usually lies around 10-30 milliseconds, but it varies on the genre of music you are working on.
On the other hand, the release time that the user will set determines how quickly the compressor disengages after the signal drops below the set threshold level. Again, the correct release time is important to find the right balance between allowing the sound to ring naturally without disturbing the overall volume control. For us, a good starting point for the release time is around 50-100 milliseconds.
Now, let us talk about makeup gain, which is the amount of gain added to the compressed signal to bring it back up to the original volume level eventually.
Before you set the makeup gain for your kick drum, listen to the sound's overall volume and adjust it to be consistent with the rest of the mix.
Now that you have learned about Kick Drum's compressor settings don’t hop on to your systems and start working. Read this section on all the common mistakes producers make with Kick Drum compression and how to avoid the same.
Over-compressing is one of the most common mistakes (if not the most) that beginners and experienced music producers make. Over-compression results in a flat, lifeless, and overtly digitized sound because of the lack of natural dynamics and punch that a kick drum naturally possesses.
Over-compression can be avoided by setting your threshold and ratio and not going bonkers. Using your ears to listen to the effect of each change and aiming for the right balance will help you maintain the natural dynamics of the drum. You should also put in an effort while adjusting the attack and release times so that you don’t lose the naturality of the kick drum.
While adjusting the compressor settings for Kick Drum, a music producer should always consider the context of the mix, as the kick drum is just one element in the track, which should be in harmony with the other instruments in the mix.
Before applying compression to your kick drum, you should listen to the mix as a whole and then identify the role you want the kick drum to play. Only after you clearly understand the mix context should you apply compression to the kick drum to improve the track instead of overpowering all the other elements.
As we told earlier, makeup gain is used to increase the volume levels of the compressed signal to balance it with the rest of the track. If set too high, Makeup Gain can result in a distorted sound.
This distorted compressed audio signal can be simply avoided by setting the threshold and then the ratio, after which you should adjust the makeup gain to bring the level of the compressed signal towards a level that is more balanced with the rest of the mix. Your ears are the best tool to figure out the correct Makeup Gain levels. Look out for distortion or clipping, then adjust the makeup gain accordingly.
Kick Drums are known for their natural dynamics and are widely popular for the same reason. Ignoring the natural dynamics of the drum is like killing its soul. Without with, it will lose its natural ebb, flow of volume, and intensity.
You can ensure that your kick drum doesn’t sound flat and lifeless by setting your threshold and ratio first and then adjusting the other compressor settings for the kick drum subtly. Try to maintain the natural dynamics of the kick drum as much as possible while still achieving the desired level of impact and sustain.
Here are some of the most common myths around kick drum compression, and explain why they aren't necessarily true.
While it's true that the fast attack time is important to compress the initial transient of the kick drum, music producers should also keep in mind that attack time is one of those compressor settings for Kick Drum that is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Using a fast attack time will result in a distorted and unnatural sound, especially if the rest of the mix is not properly balanced. Hence, when setting the attack time for your kick drum compressor, you should always consider the role you want your kick drum to play in the mix so that the entire track is in harmony.
There is no doubt that there are times when you will require a high ratio setting, but with time you will realize that it's not always the best approach.
At times using a lower ratio setting will get you a more natural and transparent sound, especially if you want to maintain the natural ebb of the kick drum.
Focusing solely on Compressor Settings for Kick Drum can be the go-to method for many rookies, but music producers should not forget that the kick drum is just one of the multiple elements in the mix. Therefore compressing the kick drum in isolation might not be the right thing to do. Hence, you should consider other elements while setting compression parameters to create a balanced and cohesive sound.
For us, the best method is setting compression parameters on the kick drum in isolation at first but then bringing in the rest of the elements of the mix to see how the compression interacts with them. This will help you get a broad understanding of how your final mix is going to sound.
Suppose you have spent some time on the compression game for quite some time. In that case, you will know that some compressor plugins are better suited for certain types of compression and processing than others, and there will never be the "best" compressor plugin that goes with everything.
Different compressor plugins can have very different characteristics that will make some better. When choosing the compressor plugin for the kick drum, the only way to find the right one is by experimenting with different options.
After everything we have debunked in this blog on Compressor settings for Kick Drums, you know how compressors can enhance the sound of a kick drum in a mix and how to use different compression settings to create the perfect melody.
One pro tip that no one should ever let go of is to remember to trust your ears and never to be afraid to experiment with different combinations of compressor settings and understand how each change affects the overall sound of the mix. Make bold choices, and try new things, as sometimes the best results come from breaking the rules and thinking out of the box!