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Kick Drum Compression Guide – How Much to Use

Compression is one of the most frequently used effects in music and can be applied to any instrument or vocal track. Using it on a kick drum can help to tighten up the sound and keep the dynamics consistent.

The amount of compression to use on a kick drum depends on the sound you’re aiming for. To start with, set the ratio to 4:1, with a fast attack of below 10ms.

You can then test the compressor with the kick drum playing, adjusting the threshold to get around 5dB of compression on each hit.

Depending on the sound you’d like to achieve and the style of the music that the kick drum is used in, you’ll need to experiment with different settings to find the right amount of compression. This may seem complicated at first, but once you understand the basic principles of kick drum compression, you’ll be able to use it effectively.

This article will explain everything you need to know about using a compressor on a kick drum and how to get the best out of this combination.

Why You Should Use Compression on a Kick Drum

The kick drum, or “bass drum” as it is also commonly named, is the lowest-sounding drum in a conventional drum set. It can be produced using an acoustic set with a foot pedal that causes a beater to hit the skin of the drum.

Alternatively, kick drum samples can also be used. Whichever form of kick drum you use in your music, compression is an essential tool to use if you want to improve the overall sound.

Many aspiring musicians, mixing engineers, and producers are initially confused by the concept of compression. The various different controls and parameters found on a compressor plugin or outboard device may seem complicated at first.

In reality, once you understand the basic principles of compression, you can start using them to enhance the sound of your kick drums right away. The amount of compression you’ll need to use on your kick drum will depend on the sound you’re aiming for, but in this guide, we’ll give you some essential tips so that you can use the effect to achieve the dynamic control that will take your mixes to the next level.

Kick Drum Compressor Settings

Whether you’re using an outboard compressor or digital compressor in your chosen DAW, you’ll find basically the same array of controls and parameters. Adjusting the setting will determine the amount of compression that is applied to a kick drum and other aspects, such as how quickly the compression kicks in.

To know how much compression you need to use to get the kick drum sound you’re looking for, you need to have a basic understanding of the adjustable parameters that affect what the compressor does.

The main controls you need to be aware of are:

  • Threshold – determines when the compressor starts to work on the audio signal
  • Ratio – controls how much compression is added to the audio signal
  • Attack – affects how quickly the compressor kicks in after the level surpasses the threshold setting
  • Release – determines how long compression remains after the sound is played
  • Knee – impacts how quickly the gain reduction is applied

The settings that you choose will ultimately depend on the sound that you want to achieve. Firstly, we’ll discuss how to use gentle compression on an acoustic kick drum to tidy up the dynamics and make it sound more consistent.

Start by setting the ratio to 4:1. This will ensure that enough compression is applied to the kick drum signal to control the peaks and troughs of its dynamic range. Then, I would recommend setting the attack to 4ms so that it kicks in relatively quickly but instantly.

The release can be set to 200ms, which is a good setting to always use for kick drums, as it compresses the main part of the audio signal and allows it to naturally stop towards the end of the waveform.

Finally, you need to tweak the threshold while playing the kick drum audio until it provides between 3-7dB of gain reduction. Your compressor will have a visual meter that indicates this.

For a more extreme form of compression that may be better suited to electronic drum sounds, try using the following settings:

The ratio should be set to 6:1 so that the dynamic range of the kick drum is reduced and kept very consistent at all times. The attack can be set around 3ms so that it kicks in quickly.

Keep the release at 200ms, and then tweak the threshold until you are getting somewhere between 8-11dB of gain reduction each time the kick drum is played. This will squash the kick drum’s dynamics and make it sound punchier.

Combining Compression with EQ

EQ, or “equalization”, and compression go hand in hand. The EQ is used to adjust the volume of particular frequencies of a kick drum, and this could involve boosting or reducing them.

You’ll probably want to perform some EQ before deciding on your final compression settings for a kick drum. By adjusting the frequencies, you can achieve the right sound before tightening up the dynamics using a compressor.

EQ is very easy to use – simply find the frequencies that you’d like to boost or reduce when listening to the kick drum, then adjust the settings accordingly. It can be easy to overdo it with EQ, and in many cases, less is more.

The Importance of a Good Dry Kick

No matter how much compression or EQ you apply to a kick drum, if it doesn’t sound good completely dry, it’s probably still not going to sound very good once you’ve added the effects.

It’s essential to isolate the kick drum before you start to compress it and try to honestly figure out whether you’re happy with the way it sounds. If you are relatively satisfied, then you can go ahead and make it sound even better by adding compression.

Compression is not a magic fix for a sub-par kick recording or sample. All that it does is enhance the existing sound and provide some dynamic control that can make it sound better within the mix.

If you’re recording a drum kit, make sure you take your time assessing the sound of the kick before you settle and start to capture final takes. This will ensure that when it comes to compressing the audio, you’ll have more to work with rather than fighting a losing battle from the start.

Related Questions

Should you compress kick and bass together?

Compressing kick drums and bass together can be useful if you want the rhythm section to sound like one solid block with similar dynamics. If you’re looking for a more organic sound, compressing them separately is a better option.

Should you compress the drum bus?

When you add your individual drum recording to a bus, adding some gentle compression is an effective way to control the dynamics of the whole drum mix.

Should you put reverb on a kick?

If you want to get an ’80s-style kick drum sound, adding reverb is a great way to achieve this. Just be sure to keep the tail of the reverb short. Otherwise, the sound will become muddy.