I’m sure that most of you guys have wondered at some point whether people use reverb on kick drum or they eschew it completely. Like wellness rat avoids the ice cream cone. Come on, at least on one of those lonely evenings. So if you are among the chosen few geeks who are eager to know if I have the answer, the following stuff will hit you as good news.
Reverb on kick drum – NOT heresy
The natural method is well known: compress the recorded kick drum track (usually parallel compression is suggested). That will highlight and make audible whatever kind of ambience was captured by the microphone(s) you put on the kick drum. In other words, it will bring out the room sound, which is a natural reverberation. That’s that thunderous, distorted sounding kick sound that can sound sweet, organic and powerful. So most people will never go further.
Now if you want something different from the above technique, you can try sending the kick into a dedicated reverb device – be it artificial or a real room or chamber. Both can work wonderfully, as long as you follow the golden rule. This golden rule is to not allow the decaying reverb tail to be audible while the following hit – our precious next transient – comes. This way, you can avoid letting your very precious low end to become a mud fest not even a puddle frog would frequent. It would especially be a mess if your arrangement happens to fall on the busier side of things. For this very reason, adding reverb on kick drum usually works better on songs with reasonably slower tempos.
So let’s see… reverb on kick? Check. Setting the decay time so the reverb tail and the next kick hit don’t overlap? Check. While it can sound sweet and even sort of big, it’s usually not among the most aggressive kind of sounds one would expect from a percussive instrument. Even though the reverb does give the impression of a large space, the naturally gradual decay makes the resulting sound too smooth. It also gets masked easily by other elements, as it leans into the rest of the music. Not too good, hey? Which leads us to our next trick. Something that works.
Reverb on kick drum – it works!
Remember the big slap-in-the-face snare sound of the 80s? Or was it more like a shot-in-the-ass… Anyway, the magic was to use whatever giant reverb, then gate it, so it doesn’t decay away naturally, but ends rather abruptly. The good thing about it is, you can do it with a kick track, too. Send the kick into the reverb of your choice, then put a noise gate on it and set the length of the whole thing as desired (watch out for the overlaps). Works perfectly on slow to mid tempo tunes. So you want to hear an example? Fine. There ya go:
Living Colour – Broken Hearts