There are endless ways to record your drum kick if you have enough courage. If you’re looking for the most accurate bass drum sound or want to manipulate the sound dynamics to your specific taste, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best kick drum recording techniques you can use on your drum kit. We’ll cover microphones, EQs, and common kick drum recording mistakes.
Let’s get started!
The Best Kick Drum Recording Techniques
Sound engineers can employ different techniques to record a kick drum sound. You can’t record a sound accurately without investing in the suitable types of microphones. From there, you can manipulate the kick drum through mic placement and additional tools.
It’s possible to record a kick drum sound using one mic, but that won’t yield the best results. Our tried and tested techniques rely on two microphones. This gives us:
- A fuller sound
- Minimized bleed from other drums
- More flexibility in recording drum sound
The first microphone goes inside the kick drum’s porthole, while the second is placed a few inches away from the drum.
- The Inside Microphone
The inside microphone is the essential tool to capture the attack and mid-range of the drum kick.
Virtually any dynamic microphone can do the trick. Ideally, you should look for small diaphragm microphones like the Shure Beta 52A. This microphone offers an incredible frequency response for kick drums. It also comes with an integral XLR connector for easy installation inside the drumhead.
You can pair the mic with a preamp to drive up the attack and capture more punch. If you want some sweet harmonic distortion, you can also play with the input until you achieve the perfect sound.
There’s no absolute ‘perfect’ placement for inside microphones. As long as they’re able to capture the vibrations from the beater, they’ll give you the tone you want.
We recommend you put the mic on a boom stand and figure out the best position inside the drumhead. The closer the mic is to the beater, the more attack it’ll pick up. If you move away from the beater and towards the resonant head, you’ll get a softer kick.
Finally, you can place a towel or pillow to create a dampening effect on the captured sound. Take your time experimenting with different drum sounds. You can assign two or three positions and change them between songs as needed.
- The Outside Microphone
External microphones are responsible for the overall feel and tone of the drum kick. Generally, the second mic is essential for capturing low-end sounds. The vibrations produced by the beater will travel until they hit the diaphragm of the outside mic.
The best mic for this job would be a ribbon mic or a condenser mic. Ribbon microphones should do the trick, but they won’t capture the higher frequencies of the drum kick. We recommend a condenser mic like the Audio-Technica AT4050 or the AKG 414 for a fuller sound.
Condenser microphones will do a better job at catching higher frequencies, but they won’t be as good at capturing the low-end frequencies. Finally, tube condensers are known to catch more low-end frequencies and achieve a smoother sound.
The two mics together should produce a more accurate sound, combining the harsher notes of the inside mic with the more balanced tones of the external mic.
The best placement for the outside microphone is around three to five inches away from the drumhead. If you have the mic positioned closer to the rim, you’ll capture more tone and less thump. On the other hand, placing it near the center will give you the opposite—more impact and less tone.
Common Kick Drum Recording Mistakes
Here are the most common mistakes sound engineers make.
- Not Investing In An EQ
An EQ can open up a wide range of options while recording. You can shave off some unneeded frequencies, boost a couple of disciples for more clarity, or drive up the attack even further.
We recommend an EQ that works well with drums, like the API 550A.
Adjusting the EQ
The sweet spot for kick drums should fall within the 50 to 100 Hz range. You can carve out the low-end frequencies below 70 Hz for an additional punch.
Boosting the dB can also produce more snaps to the kick drum. Try 3 kHz and see how you like it; you can go up to 7 kHz before feeling some distortion.
- Not Cutting A Porthole
It might seem counterintuitive to cut a hole in your bass drumhead. However, there are numerous benefits when it comes to recording.
- Enhanced sound projection
- Less rebound
- More attack
- Brighter sound
Some drummers choose not to cut a hole in their drumhead. After all, a porthole in your drumhead will noticeably alter the sound. However, sound engineers who use one mic or two external mics can struggle to pick up the perfect drum note.
The main reason sound engineers want a porthole is to place a microphone inside the drumhead. This allows for a fuller, more defined sound when recording your drum kicks. It also allows you to add dampenings (towels or cushions) to further change up the sound.
The Perfect Placement
Brian Claxton does an excellent job cutting a porthole on his 18-inch resonant drumhead. Generally speaking, a porthole should never be cut in the center. Instead, it should be cut in the lower left or lower right corner of the drumhead.
- Cutting the Porthole in the Center
A center porthole will be directly facing the beater. This means that when the beater hits the drumhead, the vibrations will travel through the center porthole and produce very little resonance.
Drummers generally want a ringing, low-pitched sound from their kick drum. Suppressing the vibrations will make the kicks sound dull, especially in recording.
This is why lower portholes produce better sound; they don’t cut the sustain as much as center portholes. More importantly, they offer more versatility when placing a microphone. Just make sure you don’t cut the hole too close to the edge of the drumhead, or you’ll risk cutting it.
Every drummer wants their kick to sound a certain way. We’d like you to take your time and experiment as much as you can with a variety of recording techniques. The more you can manipulate the dynamics of the kick drum, the more you’ll feel in control over the drum tone.
Remember, some engineers can work with an outside mic alone for a flatter kick sound. Others can utilize a combination of software and hardware to tweak the kick sound to perfection.