I talked in the past about how to EQ kick drums when mixing to carve out space and get it to gel with the rest of your mix. We don’t have the same luxuries when mixing in a live setting as we can’t automate changes or take our time to craft the perfect sound. Adjustments need to be made on the fly which always carries a certain amount of risk which is why it’s best to dial in a good sound from the start. With that in mind, let’s talk about how to find those perfect settings for live kick drum EQ.
Live Kick Drum EQ Settings
Let’s take a look at a macro picture of the general starting moves you should make on your live kick drum EQ:
Now let’s talk about each move step by step starting with the low end and working our way up.
High Pass at 20-40Hz
We begin our low kick drum EQ with a high pass filter around 20-40Hz.
The exact area will range; 20Hz is conservative but oftentimes you can go as high as 40Hz without losing much or anything on that low end.
A slope of 24dB/oct is my favorite compromise point as it’s steep enough to leave everything above 40Hz relatively untouched while giving us a gentle enough roll off below 40Hz.
This is just cleaning up the lowest of lows, removing rumbling that we don’t want cluttering our live mix, and all without sacrificing the body of the kick which we’ll address next.
Boost at 50-80Hz
One of the most important live kick drum EQ moves we can make is bringing out more of the fundamental of our kick. In other words, this is the warm thickness which we equate with the body of a kick drum. This will give the kick a lot more presence and better assert it as the anchor in our live mix.
The exact fundamental peak frequency of your kick will vary. More often than not it’s within a few Hz of 60Hz. As you can see in my graphic above which I made using my FabFilter Pro-Q 3, the fundamental of my live kick is approximately right at 60Hz.
A nice 3-6dB bump around 60Hz will seriously benefit an otherwise weak sounding live kick drum and your live mix’s low end in general.
Cut Around 150Hz
Now that we’ve done a healthy boost in our live kick drum EQ for the fundamental, let’s consider a cut to benefit the other instruments.
Just like studio mixing, a perfect live mix is all about fitting a puzzle of frequencies together. This is the key to cleaning up or avoiding a muddy mix.
The kick and bass share a lot of low end information (see my low end mixing tutorial), but the top end of the kick’s fundamental is expendable to create space for the fundamental of the bass.
As such, do a cut around 150Hz on your live kick to instantly give the bass and low end of your mid heavy instruments like guitars more breathing room.
It doesn’t have to be drastic, just a few dB is a great place to start. While you might need to sweep to find the perfect spot which best benefits the rest of your mix, 150Hz is a great place to start.
Cut in the 400-500Hz Region
You’ll likely still be hearing a kind of “pinging” knock from your live kick. This wooden sound resides in the 400-500 “boxy” region of your kick, so let’s do a few dB cut in this area to make our kick sound appreciably better.
You might want to go a bit more drastic here, but in split testing with the EQ or this specific band cut on and off, you should here a significant difference.
With that knock gone, more of that warmth and the transient click should be on display which are the two most important aspects of our kick drum, live or otherwise. This is the principle of subtractive EQ, and it is on full display here.
Boost Around 3k
Speaking of that transient click, we can bring out more of that click sound of the beater on drum by boosting around 3k.
By bringing out more of that sound via some live kick drum EQ, our kick will assert itself more aggressively through the live mix.
This is important when you’ve got a lot of other instruments both in the rest of the drum kit and otherwise vying for the listener’s attention.
The kick is the anchor which keeps time and the listener locked into the timing of the music, so more of that click will draw attention to the kick even during the most energetic and busiest times in the mix.
Low Pass at 15k
One last move to make is a low pass filter at 15k. This is above the transients and a relatively conservative point to filter above so nothing audible will be sacrificed.
It’s subtle, but like the cut we made at 150Hz, this creates space. In this case, the low pass filter in our live kick drum EQ creates more room for the elements of the live mix which need the high end of the frequency spectrum like our kit’s cymbals, vocals, and potentially synth instruments.
Try split testing with the entire live kick drum EQ on and off.
With the EQ engaged, you should hear a much cleaner, more sculpted, and more powerful tone from your kick. More than that, some of these EQ moves have created space for the rest of the instruments for a cleaner live mix.
Live Kick Drum EQ Tips
- High pass filter in the 20-40Hz range at a slope of 24dB/oct to remove inaudible and unwanted low end rumble.
- Boost around 60Hz by at least 3dB to bring out more fundamental body and warmth from your kick.
- Cut around 150Hz to create space for the bass and low-mids of other instruments in your live mix.
- Cut around 400-500Hz to remove the wooden “pinging” like knock from your kick and better emphasize the good sounding parts of your kick via subtractive EQ.
- Boost around 3k to bring out more of the transient “click” of beater on drum to help the live kick cut through the mix.
- Low pass filter at 15k to give this room to cymbals, vocals, and other top end frequency dependent instruments without taking away from the live kick.