How to Get a Great Kick Drum Sound
Recording and mixing kick drums may seem mysterious for people who are new to it. As with most things audio, there are many different ways one could record and mix a kick drum. Be sure to adapt these ideas to your own style of working, and be sure to compare ideas with others. I especially recommend Bobby Owsinki’s book “The Recording Engineer’s Handbook“ and “The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook“ for additional perspective on recording and mixing kick drums.
Most importantly, let your ears be the most significant factor in deciding what works.
Consider the source
When the drummer hits that kick drum right in front of you, how does it sound? If it sounds lousy, so will your recording.
In addition, how the playing fits in the song and how everything else works with the drums have a lot to do with how poorly a kick may sound at the end of the process.
The point is, the best recording practices may not overcome inherent flaws with the drum, the drummer, the song, etc… Good tuning is a very big deal, and there are lots of opportunities for other nuance: kick drum wood type [oak, birch, beech, maple, etc.], type of head(s), age of the head(s), venting hole, type of beater, even affixing something to the skin for the beater to hit.
It all boils down to getting the kick to sound the way you want in the room BEFORE you start worrying about mics and recording. In the words of @sonicvalentine, “start with a good kick drum hit by a good drummer.” But don’t take my word for it… Here is a interview with legendary studio drummer Gregg Bissonette from August of 2010:
Skip to the part of the interview you want to hear:
- 01.47 – Andy Johns
- 03.54 – Tight and punchy
- 04.15 – 24 inch kick
- 04.47 – Seating the head
- 05.21 – Evenly tensioned
- 06.03 – Damping
- 06.43 – Mic position
- 08.33 – EQ while tracking
- 09.27 – No felt
- 10.11 – Balance
- 11.29 – Drum heads
- 13.26 – Hole
- 13.50 – Technique
- 17.47 – Player side mic
- 18.58 – Chuff
- 19.34 – Timber tuning
- 20.41 – Drums that sing
- 22.18 – More on damping
- 24.11 – Jazz
- 24.37 – T-Bone Burnett kick sound
- 25.12 – Military marching drum
- 25.41 – Lug locks
- 26.04 – Tighten lugs across
- 26.48 – Finger taps while tuning
- 29.38 – Pet peeves
- 29.58 – Balance
- 31.15 – Taping things to the head
- 33.16 – Beaters
- 34.23 – Room interaction
- 36.44 – Cost cutting
- 37.33 – Bearing edge
- 38.18 – Drummer plus engineer
- 38.51 – Flexibility
Read the entire 3 part series How To Record and Mix a Kick Drum with pics and audio.
Also just released, check out The Home Recording Show’s Kick Drum Mic Shootout