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How to achieve a huge bass drum sound with EQ, reverb and compression

An RP reader hears a huge bass drum on a hit record. He wants to know how to achieve it himself.

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A question from a Audio Masterclass reader...

"Please in your spare time check out the song called 'Promise' by Ciara. There is a huge bass kick at the beginning of almost every bar.

"I would like to know how this bass kick was EQed in such a way that it stands out in the mix and it sounds so powerful. I have problems mixing bass frequencies and trying to make them stand out and still sound like a bomb."

We need to listen to the track, so here it is...

Firstly I'll say that anyone who can make a video like this will probably get their music listened to, which is a fantastic achievement in itself. But back to the bass drum, or 'kick drum' if you prefer.

There are three basic techniques involved here...

Technique No. 1 is EQ. If you want to make any bass drum recording or sample sound bigger, then EQ will be your friend. Clearly you will be boosting the low end, but bear in mind that boosting anything below around 50 Hz probably won't add much to the effect, and may cause problems for those who listen on small speakers. To get this exactly right, you might listen to just the bass drum on a range of playback systems to try and achieve the optimum EQ balance to get a big sound.

Also, whatever you find yourself boosting in the bass drum, you can cut in the rest of the track, thus making room for the bass drum rather than having the rest of the instruments compete.

Technique No. 2 is reverb. Clearly there is reverb on this bass drum. Perhaps it was recorded or sampled this way, but a reverb plug-in is a lot quicker to use. But don't be too quick - take care to try out lots of options, and don't settle for a standard program without tweaking the parameters.

Or... maybe it isn't reverb. Maybe the drum is tuned to sound like that, and not damped too much. It's difficult to tell in the context of the mix, but the ability to tune drums is a good skill to have. If however you tuned the drum and didn't quite damp it enough, you can always shape the envelope by various means. But that would be an article in itself.

Technique No. 3 is pumping. Put the whole track through a compressor except for the bass drum, and perhaps the vocal. But have the bass drum trigger the side chain of the compressor. By doing this, the rest of the instruments will duck down when the bass drum strikes, then come back up as it decays. You can do this for obvious effect, or keep it subtle and hardly noticeable.

I don't think there's anything in this track that couldn't be achieved through a combination of these methods. But if you have any other interesting bass drum techniques, we would love to know. Offerings below please.

By David Mellor Wednesday May 9, 2012
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