1. Computing

How To Record (or mix) the Perfect Kick Drum

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Ludwig Classic Birch Kick Drum Ludwig, Inc.
Quick, think fast: What is the most important drum sound in the entire kit? The one sound that partially defines the genre of music you're recording, the one that makes the most impact, both literally and figuratively? Your answer should be the kick, or bass, drum. The kick drum is the centerpiece of your drum set. A bad kick drum sound can ruin the entire vibe of your song, not to mention make your mixing session difficult when the drummer is dissatisfied.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1 Hour Or More

Here's How:

  1. Tune The Kit.
    As with anything you record, I stand by the most important piece of advice anyone ever gave me: a good source will produce a better recording, given all other elements being equal. In this case, a good, natural drum sound will get you 75% of the way to creating a good drum on the actual track. Start off by having your drummer come to the recording session with good condition - preferably new - heads on his drum, and make sure he/she tunes the kit once it warms up (or cools down) to room temperature. Remember, a drum kit reacts pretty seriously to temperature fluctuations.
  2. Choose The Right Mic
    When selecting mics, it's usually a good idea to go with word of mouth recommendations from other recordists, because they have gone through the trial-and-error process of finding good matches. My preferred kick drum microphone is the Heil PR-40 ($300), but there's a lot of great options out there for every budget. It's up to you and your budget which microphone you choose to use. I generally prefer to place a microphone inside the kick drum, as well; for this, my favorite microphone is the Sennheiser E901 ($200). This gives added attack and punch to the signal.
  3. Proper Mic Position
    Placement of the microphone is another factor, and getting it right is crucial. Remember that you want a balance between the low end resonance of the drum and the high-end attack of the beater. Begin slightly inside the hole on the front head, pointed slightly away (also called "off axis") of the beater. From there, move the microphone around until you're hearing the sound you want. Remember, the closer to the beater you are, the more punch; the farther, the more low end. If you're using a microphone placed inside, it's important to position the two microphones properly to get a good mix.
  4. Record The Track
    Once you've placed your microphone, you'll record the track. Hopefully the sound is acceptable; if not, don't be afraid to recommend that your drummer redo the track after trying different microphone placement techniques. If you're not getting what you want the first time, try moving your microphones; if it's still too "live" or "empty" sounding, you might want to add something to the inside of the drum itself, such as a blanket or pillow.
  5. Gating/Compression
    Once recorded, you can choose what you want to do to the track. Adding EQ, compression, or gating is up to you. If you like the sound as it is naturally and it sits well in the mix, then move on without. Adding a gate will help you minimize bleed from other microphones and can help clean up the mix. Compression will help both even out the peaks, and add punch to the drum (start at around a 3:1 ratio with fast attack and release times, and slowly bring down the threshold until the top peaks are barely brought down).
  6. Equalizing
    EQ will help bring out whatever characteristics you feel are lacking, and will also help create a sense of acoustic space for the bass guitar. Try boosting slightly around 75-80 Hz to add more to the low end resonance, pulling out a little between 200-400 Hz to help reduce unwanted boxiness, and adding a little between 5-7 Khz for extra punch.
  7. Don't Be Afraid To Experiment!
    Again, experiment - while the suggestions here are a good starting point, it's only through trial and error that you will find the perfect combination that works for you!

Tips:

  1. Always, always, always tune your kit. There's no way you'll get the sounds you want if your kick drum isn't tuned properly.
  2. Always try a combination of microphones if you're not getting what you want with one. And think outside the box -- if you don't have microphones designed for kick drum, try whatever you have. Good tuning and mic positioning can make up for any problems.
  3. Compress tastefully, but don't overdo it.

What You Need

  • Patience
  • A Well-Tuned Kick Drum
  • A Good Kick Drum Microphone
  • Compressor/EQ/Noise Gate Plug-Ins or Rack Units
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  5. How to Record and Mix Kick Drum: Perfect Low End

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