How to record a kick drum
First off, check out the drum. Is it tuned well? Too low, too high? Is it stuffed with so much random stuff it's totally dead, or the opposite - way too ringy and live? This is the first step, getting your drummer to get the thing sounding as good as possible before you do *anything*. Get them to tune it. yes, you can and should tune a kick drum. I go for as little padding as possible to get any unwanted ring under control, usually some cloth or a blanket folded so it’s barely touching the heads. I say "heads" as I usually also prefer both heads on, with a hole cut in the front head so we can get inside the drum. This is the time I should also advise you to not stick your head down by the drum and destroy your hearing before you have even started recording. It sounds obvious enough, right? The next thing is to make sure that bastard doesn’t move. Spikes into carpet, a heavy weight inside or in front of the drum, or even rope tying it to the drummers throne - I have used all of these when necessary. Whatever you do make it rock solid before you get deep into recording.
There are a wide selection of bass drum mic’s commonly used, my favourite being the RE20 as it’s big, wide and neutral. AKG D12, D112, Shure Beta 52, Beta 91, Audix D6, the list goes on. Don't have one of these? Don’t worry - a lot of kicks have been recorded with a Sennheiser 421, or even…the humble Shure SM57. Don’t believe me? Try it.
So, where do we put the mic? Normally, we stick it in the hole. For maximum tone, at the hole parallel with the outer hoop seems to give the most size - at the expense of attack. Inside is more manageable as far as bleed, and pointing directly at the point of impact is my favoured target as usually there is never enough attack in rock & roll! Want more tone? Slightly angle the microphone to the side or start moving backwards towards the outer head.
Micing the outer HEAD itself - not the hole - can be interesting, especially if it's on the loose side getting some real deep, thumpy stuff or if you’re looking for “long” hip-hop-ish kick drum. Think Bonham, the 70’s. The downside is of course the attack which on a lot of modern records is pretty insane and impossible to dial in if this is your only source. You can also mic the batter side - near the kick pedal and this is when you usually find out just how squeaky your kick pedal is and why WD40 is an essential part of your engineering toolkit. Putting a mic here also gives you a LOT of bleed from the snare, but can result in some pretty savage attack. It’s also good combined with an inner mic.
While we’re on this topic, let’s quickly discuss the kick drum beater - whether it’s soft felt, hard felt, has a plastic or even wooden beater makes a huge difference and is song dependent, as does the spot where the kick pedal makes contact with the head. For people chasing more attack, stick on kick dots like the Danmar ones are invaluable, though many a session I have spend duct taping a piece of plastic, wood or even a 50p coin to a head for maximum snap. If you do use a coin, wrap it or else it will eat through the head, and keep an eye on anything you tape as it won’t stay stuck for too long.
Commonly a second mic is used at the outer edge of the kick, often a large diaphragm condenser to grab some more low end. On it’s own it will sound even more wooly that the mic inside the drum, but is super handy for adding some more lows. The Yamaha sub-kick ( which is really a fancy, gimmicky version of using an old NS-10 cone wired to an XLR) can be good for this purpose, but almost ALWAYS needs padding down to get it into useful territory as the signal it outputs is so high. Shure make an inline pad ideal for this purpose that goes on the end of your XLR cable. Don't be afraid to isolate the kick with blankets, jackets, a tunnel made from a chair,
whatever you have - whatever works if you need to. The further you get away from the kick the more bleed you will get, obviously we want to keep that to the minimum unless we are getting really wild 'n loose.
Ok, so now we have everything as good as we can at this stage, we are finally…almost ready to record something, so let’s solo it. Unless you are in jazz territory or going for some thing uber-natural and raw there is NO way that sound resembles a kick drum on 90% of modern records, which is why a lot of people will immediately replace it with a sample. Weakness. It’s probably not going to surprise you to learn that ideally I’d EQ it before recording. Lucky for you...that’s next weeks instalment!
Yes, the guy who writes this is Bald, English and mixes records at baldenglish.com