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How to Fix a Muddy Kick Drum

Dec 25, 2019

Muddy kick drums are a common mixing issue, especially if you’re using drum samples. We offer 3 tips for remedying this issue.

How to Fix a Muddy Kick Drum

Muddy kicks are a common mixing issue to run into, so it’s important that you know how to fix them. This quick guide will demonstrate 3 different mixing techniques you can use to deal with a muddy kick.

1. Use Sidechain Compression

The bass in your song usually plays back within the same low-frequency range as your kick, which means if both elements are playing at a similar level, there’s a high possibility that frequency masking is occurring. A simple way to deal with this is by using sidechain compression to duck your bass out of the way when your kick plays.

A multiband compressor, like the C6 Multiband Compressor, allows you to selectively process different frequency ranges using an external sidechain input signal. Apply the C6 to your bass, set the low band to affect frequencies beneath 300 Hz, and then toggle this band into external sidechain mode.

Set your kick track as the sidechain input source and reduce the threshold level of the band until you can see and hear gain reduction being applied to the low end of your bass. Perform this process with your kick and bass both playing for better and faster results; it’s important to hear how they sound in relation to one another when setting the threshold level.

(Alternatively, you can compress the low end of your bass with the Renaissance Compressor plugin, inserted inside the free StudioRack plugin chainer. Create a new Multiband Split rack inside StudioRack, insert an instance of RCompressor(SC) into the low band’s chain and activate the external sidechain feature at the top of the plugin window. After setting the desired values for the Renaissance Compressor’s Threshold and Ratio parameters, you can extend the affected frequency range of your bass by raising the crossover point of the band inside StudioRack).

2. Focus the Stereo Image

Most drum samples you find online will come pre-processed. The problem with this is that samples are usually made to sound good on their own, but not necessarily within the context of a full mix. Often, kick samples have more sonic information than is necessary, which means you’ll have to chip away at excess material.

Kicks may have stereo wideners applied to them to sound big and full when soloed, but this can lead to problems when you drop them into a song. Stereo widened kicks may dominate too much of the stereo field and mask various elements in your mix, all the way up the frequency spectrum. Use the S1 Stereo Imager to put your kicks into mono, or gently narrow them, by pulling down on the S1’s width slider.

Note: You may lose some low-end energy when narrowing your kick, so apply a gentle boost with a low-shelf filter using an EQ to compensate for the loss if necessary.

3. Get Surgical with EQ

Before you start making EQ adjustments, ensure that you’ve set general track levels appropriately. You won’t know what part of your kick needs to be boosted/attenuated if it’s 9 dB too quiet; in relation to the other elements in your mix, everything about your kick will feel like it needs to be boosted.

Depending on the genre, kick drum recordings tend to contain unwanted “mud” and low-end rumble below the 40-50 Hz range. By gently rolling these frequencies off with a high-pass filter, you’ll be able to provide your kick drum with a clearer, more focused bottom end. You may also want to apply a narrow cut around the 200-350 Hz range.

Don’t fear additive EQ. Use the Q10 Equalizer to boost the 100-200 Hz range of your kick for more “body.” This is where much of the “punch” of a kick drum comes from. Using a bell filter with a narrow bandwidth, apply a boost and sweep the filter throughout the 100-200 Hz range of your kick drum. Set the band to the frequency that sounds best to your ears.

Want more quick mix fixes? Get tips on fixing thin acoustic guitars.

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