Compressing kick drums

Just a quickie to say that the choice of compressor you use for kick drums is more important than the actual settings you use. Kicks are a fickle beast – a few ms or a few db can make a huge difference in how the sound is perceived. This is also where a lot of compressors differ – in how they handle strong low frequencies and how they respond to rapidly-changing envelopes.

If you’re not getting the sound you want from your kick drum, don’t spend too much time adjusting the compressor. Instead try a different compressor. This is why it’s handy to have a few different compressors on hand – preferably different styles. Sometimes an agressive compressor is the right thing to pump the volume, sometimes a gentle compressor is better for shaping the attack and overdriving the tail. Often a compressor won’t work no matter what settings you use, and another one will work within a few seconds of tweaking.

Also – don’t assume that the compressor that worked for a kick worked last time will be the right one next time. Sure, it might be worthwhile to start with it, but keep in mind that kicks (and the mixes they’re in) are just as variable as the compressors themselves.


    • Alex
    • July 15th, 2009

    Hey Kim,

    What are your favourite compressors? Software and hardware :-)

    What about using shapers (like Ableton Live’s Sampler has)? I find a little distortion can help a sound cut through and shapers can achieve this with subtle settings.

    Also, how about transient designers/shapers?



  1. I’d rather not discuss the specific plugins I use. Partly because I don’t think it’s important (there are plenty of good plugins available), and also because I have professional relationships with some plugin manufacturers.

    Saturation is especially important as well. I almost never use transient shapers on kicks.


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