Recording The Kick Drum

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kick mic

Recording the drums is probably the first stage in a recording where you finally get to start building the ‘final’ sound. Hopefully you should already have a plan as to how to overdub the entire band, and probably have some sort of guide track to work from.

There are many different ways to record a complete drum kit, and it will depend on what recording equipment you have available. The next few posts in this series will focus on the key areas of the kit; the kick drum, the snare drum, overheads and toms. We will revisit this area later on with some more advanced tips and techniques for you to try out.

So let’s get stuck straight in with the kick drum:

Tuning and Tone

Tuning the kick drum is hugely important before you start recording, and there are a lot of different sounds that you can get from any one kick drum. Here are a few pointers from Travis Whitmore on how to choose the right tone:

  • The resonant head is what gives a drum its tone, if you take the resonant head completely off to only hear the batter side. You will get a lot of beater attack from the kick pedal and in turn, you’ll lose some of the ‘bloom’.
  • If you cut a hole in the resonant head, this will decrease the resonance of the drum and will allow you to place a mic inside the drum to capture more of the attack from the beater.
  • Muffling the batter or resonant head with a blanket or pillow will change the amount of attack, the duration of sustain and the tone
  • For even more of an attack, try using a plastic or wood beater

Mic choice

In general, a dynamic microphone is going to be a good choice for a kick drum. This is because of the way a dynamic mic introduces natural compression at high sound pressure levels, rather than a condenser which is much easier to overload. The AKG D112 is a very popular choice because it is extremely versatile, can cope with high SPLs, has a decent high frequency response and isn’t very expensive.

Other mics worth considering are; an SM57 which again is extremely versatile but won’t have the low end response of the D112, an RE20 which is considerably more expensive or perhaps a specialized kick drum mic like the Shure beta 52.

Mic placement

There are three main positions to place a mic on a kick drum:

  • Outside the drum, facing the resonant head

You will want to keep it away from the rim of the drum, and the closer to the center you get, the more sustain the mic will pick up. As a general rule of thumb about 6 inches in from the rim is a likely starting place.  This will give you a lot of the sustain and low end tone of the drum. If the resonant head is ported, the mic shouldn’t be within around 3 inches of the edge or it will start picking up harmonics from around the hole.

  • Inside the drum, facing the batter head

This position requires either a port in the resonant head or removing the head entirely. You can choose how far in to place the mic according to preference. The sound will change from really tight and punchy when the mic is up close the beater, to deep and sustained by moving the mic towards the resonant head. If you place the capsule of the mic inside the port of a drum, be careful because there is so much air moving through the port, the capsule could easily overload and distort.

  • outside the drum, facing the batter head

Putting the mic right next to the beater like this will obviously give you a lot of beater noise, and you will get a lot more attack and ‘click’ than sustain and actual tone. When choosing a mic to put here, you want something that has a decent high frequency response because there will be a lot of high frequency content from the beater.

Combinations

The final option is use multiple mics on the kick drum, one on the batter head (inside or outside) and one outside the resonant head. This gives you more control in the mix, but you will have to be very careful with phase because of their distance apart and could be facing in opposite directions.

What do you like doing with your kick drums? Crisp and punchy, or deep and thick?

[image via Audio-TechnicaUK]

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