<iframe src="//www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-TMFBBP" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden"> A Step-by-Step Guide to Recording the Bass Drum
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A Step-by-Step Guide to Recording the Bass Drum

Recording, Honing Your Craft

Apr 28, 2016 10:00 AM

Bobby Owsinski

shutterstock_123948400Image via Shutterstock

This is an excerpt from Audio Recording Basic Training by Bobby Owsinski. It has been reprinted here with permission.

 

The bass drum anchors the band and, along with the snare, provides the pulse of the song. Because it can come in different sizes and be used with the front head on or off, its sound will vary a lot more than the other drums.

Most of the time you’ll get the best sound for recording out of a bass drum if the front head is removed, since this gets rid of any overtones that the combination of the front and rear head might produce. Even with a hole in the front head, some overtones may still exist. Either way, it’s best to place a packing blanket or some heavy towels so they just touch both heads so the sound will be tight and punchy. Pack the blanket closer to the rear head for more muffling.

The exceptions to this might be in a jazz or classical situation where the drummer just needs to feel the tension that the front head provides in order to play well. If that’s the case, you can still get a great sound, as evidenced by the giant drum sounds that John Bonham got on all those Led Zeppelin records.

A large diaphragm dynamic mic like an AKG D-112, Shure B52, E/V RE20 or 320, or Heil PR 40 is typically used in order to obtain the girth in the kick sound that most modern records require, but don’t be afraid to try other microphones as well. The exception is a ribbon mic, since the blast of air coming off the bass drum head can actually be enough to blow the diaphragm out, so it’s best to use it on another instrument instead.

Bass drum mic positioning

  • For a kick drum without a front head, place the mic on a short boom stand in front of the bass drum and position the head element of the mic just inside the drum by a couple of inches.
  • Point the mic towards the center of the bass drum, about eight to 12 inches away from the inside head, at about the same height as where the beater hits the drum. Listen on the monitors. Does the drum sound tight and punchy? Does it have enough low end? Can you hear the beater? Are there a lot of overtones? Is there a decay after the drum is hit or does it stop abruptly?
  • To get a tighter, more compact bass drum sound, place a folded packing blanket or a pillow on the inside of the bottom of the drum shell lightly touching the head. Secure it with a weight or even a brick on the blanket to keep it from slipping once you've positioned it to get the perfect sound. Listen on the monitors. Does the drum sound tight and punchy? Does it have enough low end? Can you hear the beater? Are there a lot of overtones? Is there a decay after the drum is hit or does it stop abruptly?
  • Place it where you have the best combination of low end and definition.

Miking a bass drum with a front head

  • Place the mic on a short stand four to six inches away from the head, halfway up and slightly off-center. Listen on the monitors. Does the drum sound tight and punchy? Does it have enough low end? Can you hear the beater? Are there a lot of overtones? Is there a decay after the drum is hit or does it stop abruptly?
  • Move the mic away about six inches farther away from the head. Listen on the monitors. Does the drum sound have more low end?
  • Move it away about a foot farther. Is there more or less low end?
  • Place it where you have the best combination of low end and definition.

Miking a bass drum with a front head with a hole

  • Place the mic just inside the hole, pointed at where the beater strikes the back head. Listen on the monitors. Does the drum sound tight and punchy? Does it have enough low end? Can you hear the beater? Are there a lot of overtones? Is there a decay after the drum is hit or does it stop abruptly?
  • Aim the mic away from the beater and more at the shell of the drum. Has the sound changed? Can you hear more or less beater? Is there more or less low end?
  • Place it where you have the best combination of low end and definition.

The subkick mic

  • The subkick phenomena started recently due to the burning desire to get a little more of the lower bass sound out of the kick without having to crank up the EQ. The subkick mic is actually a small speaker (anywhere from five to eight inches) that’s used as a microphone to pick up the ultra-lows (below 50 Hz) of a kick drum that most mics just can’t capture. While this is can be jury-rigged by taking the low-frequency driver from a speaker like a Yamaha NS-10M, Yamaha also makes a commercial model known as the SKRM-100.
  • Making one of your own is easy. Just get a speaker and wire pins two and three of an XLR connector to the speaker’s terminals. The polarity might be backwards, so be sure to check the phase switch on the console or preamp to see which position has the most bottom.

Placing the subkick mic

  • Place the subkick mic about two inches from the lip of the kick drum shell. Listen on the monitors. Is there more low end? Is there more or less high end? Can you hear the sound of the beater?
  • Move the subkick back about three inches. Is there more or less low end? Can you hear any of the other drums leaking through?

 

Producer/engineer Bobby Owsinski is one of the best-selling authors in the music industry with 23 books that are now staples in audio recording, music, and music business programs in colleges around the world, including The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, Social Media Promotion for Musicians, Music 4.0: A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age, and more. He’s also a contributor to Forbes writing on the new music business, and he’s appeared on CNN and ABC News as a music branding and audio expert. Visit Bobby's music production blog, Music 3.0 music industry blog, Forbes blog, podcast, and website.

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