Micing a Kick Drum

This months tip deals with micing kick drums.

You wouldn't believe how many people ask me about micing their kick drums. It leads me to believe people really don't know how to.

-ON SOAPBOX-

It became so fashionable in the mid-90's through the early 2000's to use MIDI or sampled dum sounds in productions that many people now have no idea how to record a "real" drum when the "band" or "live" sound came back in.

-OFF SOAPBOX-

So, first things first. You need to make sure the actual sound source, in this case the drum, sounds as good as it can sound. You might have to "sell" the idea to the drummer that just because his drum set sounds or works a certain way in a live setting, that might, (probably) won't sound good in the studio.

One of the initial assessments you must make is determining the value of the drum. This isn't a precise science and if you are not a drummer, this probably won't be common knowledge. But it is pretty easy to learn. The next time you are in your local music store drooling over the latest TC Electronics piece, work your way over to the drum department. Pay close attention to the difference in the shells between the inexpensive sets (say $1000 or less) and the more expensive sets (those over $1000). If the shell is pure wood, like maple or birch, it typically needs less muffling in the recording process. If the shell is some type of wood or fiberglass wrap, as commonly found on less expensive kits, they normally require more muffling for recording purposes.

Less muffling usually means keeping the front (non-beater) head on. This way, the drum can vibrate fully and resonate completely. The ringing may sound like too much, but most of the ring will be lost in the mix. Again, this is a different mindset than live. In a live situation, you would want to control the ring as much as possible to avoid feedback. If you start recording and the drum is still ringing too much for your taste, start muffling a little bit at a time. A thin blanket laid inside the drum will usually do the trick.

With less expensive drums that need more muffling, take the front head completely off or at least make sure that there is a good size mic hole cut into the head. Muffle with pillows and/or blankets. There are beater, or back, heads that come pre-muffled. If possible, use a head that is not muffled. These muffled heads work great in a live setting but do not give you as much control in the studio. Add or take away muffling as needed. Keep this in mind, though, although much of the ringing will still be lost in the mix, the tone that an inexpensive shell puts out is not nearly as "sweet" as a better shell. It is usually in your best interest as an engineer to cut as much of this ring without losing all of the tone.

The second aspect of micing a kick drum is the mic itself. Usually, a dynamic mic with the largest diaphragm you can find is the best bet. My all-time favorite mic for kick drums is the EV RE20. This mic is fairly expensive for a dynamic mic, though, and many home studios do not have them in their mic aresenal. The AKG D112 is a good choice. Sennheiser has its E series that is pretty good. If all else fails, you can always use a Shure SM57. You need a couple of these in your studio anyway.

The last part of micing your kick drum is the mic placement. A few inches one way or another can make or break your recording, so experiment, experiment, experiment! As a general rule, the more muffled your drum is the deeper inside the drum you want to place your mic. Start with the mic flush with the front head with the mic facing the beater and keep moving the mic further and further into the drum until you get the perfect balance between tone and the "slap" or "click" of the beater.

Here are some tricks that I have personally used with good results:

- to get more "click" or beater sound

Switch beater from cloth to wood. These can be bought at your local music store.

On top of pillows or blankets, sit a cinder block. It gave me a "punchier" sound.

Use a seperate mic in back of the kick drum by the drummer's foot facing the beater. - not enough low end

Set a chair a few feet in front of kick drum and drape a heavy blanket from the drum to the chair. (You may need to use a bit of duct tape to get the blanket to stay on the drum.) Set the mic under the chair facing the kick drum. This tends to focus the low end and let it develop a bit more before it reaches the mic.

Whew! That's alot of work, huh? Again, don't be afraid to experiment.

Philip Langlais is the founder of iKnowAudio.com, the site for affordable, practical online audio production training. We specialize in teaching you the art of digital recording, mixing, editing, mastering, how to use compressors, eq's, reverbs, etc. Visit us at http://www.iknowaudio.com.

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