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Should a kick drum be elevated?

When mixing drums, one of the most common questions is whether or not the kick drum should be elevated in the mix. There are good arguments on both sides of this issue, with experienced engineers and producers having different philosophies. In this article, we’ll look at the rationale behind elevating the kick drum, as well as some potential drawbacks. By understanding the nuances of kick drum mixing, you can make an informed decision for your own productions.

What does it mean to elevate the kick drum?

First, let’s clearly define what we mean by “elevating” the kick drum. This refers to boosting the level of the kick drum relative to the other elements in the mix, so that it has more prominence and impact. Technically, there are a few ways engineers can achieve this:

  • Turn up the fader volume of the kick drum channel
  • Use EQ boost in the low/mid bass region occupied by the kick
  • Compress the kick drum more heavily than other elements
  • Reduce the volume of competing instruments in the same frequency range

Used alone or together, these techniques will make the kick drum clearly distinguishable in the mix. A more elevated kick will typically be louder, fuller and have more “punch.” This can drastically affect the groove and feel of a track.

Why elevate the kick drum?

There are a few main reasons why many engineers choose to elevate the kick drum in a mix:

Emphasize the groove

The kick drum plays a crucial role in establishing the groove and rhythmic foundation of most styles popular music. Elevating the kick emphasizes the rhythmic pattern and makes the groove more prominent. This can help make a track feel more driving and energetic.

Enhance low end

The kick drum contains key low frequency energy, often being the single lowest element in a mix. Boosting the kick drum can help enhance the sense of low end power and weight, resulting in a fuller and more impactful mix.

Provide clarity

Elevating the kick slightly can help it cut through a dense arrangement and provide more clarity/definition to the rhythm. This prevents the kick from getting buried or “muddy.”

Match genre conventions

Some styles like EDM and hip hop typically feature very prominent, almost over-exaggerated kick drums as part of their established sound. Elevating the kick helps achieve the stylistic expectations.

Potential drawbacks of elevating the kick

While elevating the kick drum can certainly achieve some positive results in a mix, there are also some potential downsides:

Masks competing elements

If the kick is too loud, it can mask competing elements in a similar low frequency range like the bassline. This can reduce clarity in the arrangement if other parts become obscured.

Less natural sound

Music with an elevated, heavily processed kick drum may sound impressive on huge club systems but unnaturally exaggerated on smaller speakers. Not elevating the kick can result in a more natural, balanced sound.

Reduces dynamics

Having a consistently loud kick drum can reduce the sense of dynamics as the song progresses. Holding back on the kick drum in sections can make choruses and hits even more impactful by contrast.

Fatiguing over time

A very prominent kick drum can potentially become fatiguing to listeners over the length of a song, if it draws too much focus the entire time.

Difficult to rein in

Once you elevate the kick drum, it becomes difficult to reduce its level later without impacting the groove. This can limit flexibility when adjusting balances.

When should you elevate the kick drum?

Given the potential pros and cons, here are some general guidelines on when elevating the kick drum tends to work best:

  • Dance/electronic music genres where the kick is integral to the groove
  • Sparse arrangements with few competing elements in the low end
  • Sections like choruses where you want maximum rhythmic impact
  • Quieter passages to help the kick punch through
  • Cases where the natural kick sound lacks low end or definition

Boosting the kick drum may be less advisable in situations like:

  • Busy mixes with multiple bass elements crowding the low end
  • Sections with rapid kick drum patterns that could become tiring
  • Styles like jazz or classical where a natural acoustic balance is preferable
  • Tracks with kick samples that already have a lot of click and thump
  • Mixes intended for systems lacking bass response capabilities

Best practices for elevating the kick drum

If you do decide to elevate the kick drum in a mix, here are some tips for getting the best results:

Cut competing bass elements

Use EQ, sidechaining or volume automation to carve out space for the kick drum in the bass and low midrange area. This will prevent clashing or masking.

Control boosts with compression

Rather than just turning up the kick fader, try moderate boosts together with heavier compression. This will allow more sustain and prevent an unnatural clipped effect.

Layer samples carefully

If adding layered kick samples for extra oomph, make sure the new samples are tuned properly and have a similar character to the main kick.

Check on different systems

Evaluate the elevated kick on both bass-heavy club systems and smaller speakers. Strive for a balance that sounds powerful yet still natural across different playback scenarios.

Automate level changes

Use automation to increase the kick level for choruses or high-impact phrases, and reduce it during less busy sections. This will help maximize impact while retaining dynamics.

High-pass filter excess bass

Applying a high-pass filter around 30-50 Hz can allow elevating the kick without it getting too boomy or muddy. Keep the core lows, filter the extreme sub rumble.

Key EQ and compression tips

The two most important tools for elevating the kick drum are EQ and compression. Here are some suggested approaches:

EQ techniques

Frequency Range Purpose
60-100 Hz Boost to increase kick thump and low end
100-200 Hz Cut to reduce muddiness
2-5 kHz Boost for click and attack
400-600 Hz Sweep cut to improve clarity in busy mixes

Compression settings

Parameter Typical Setting
Ratio 3:1 to 10:1
Threshold -10 to -20 dB
Attack 5-20 ms
Release 100-300 ms
Makeup Gain As needed, up to 6 dB


While elevating the kick drum can provide some useful results in certain situations, the most balanced approach is generally to make more moderate level boosts. Subtle elevation combined with EQ shaping and compression can help the kick drum nicely punctuate the groove without overpowering the mix. But as with many aspects of mixing, the “right” approach depends entirely on the song. Just be sure to listen critically on multiple speaker systems, use reference tracks, and don’t go overboard on the kick boosts. Let the music itself guide your decisions, not dogmatic rules. With practice and experience, you’ll hone your instincts for when a kick drum needs that little extra thump.