Kick Drum Recording and Processing Tips | Abbey Road's Chris Bolster Explains

A great kick drum sound is, of course, the foundation of any modern drum kit recording. Getting it right will help give your track the right feel, whether you’re after a killer funky groove or a hard-rocking, driving beat. Abbey Road’s Chris Bolster continues our Production Hub recording series with advice and tips on how to record and process the backbone of the beat: the kick drum.
 

Chris Bolster on Kick Drum Tips

The best tip is simply to get a great-sounding bass drum. Shells, sizes, tuning, skins and any damping are the keys to a great drum sound. And don’t forget a good or sympathetic-sounding space to record it within.

Hopefully, you have an idea of a basic sound or vibe that you’re looking for. Also, you have possibly heard recordings made within the space that sound good; perhaps you’ve listened to an instrument played in the space, giving you an idea of tonality, reflections and decay time. This is based on size, shape, building materials and so on.

A microphone and processing are only there to capture and excite the sound and not the key to achieving a desired tonal outcome. But, placed correctly, i.e., put where tonally the microphone and its personal character sounds best, you will be off to a great start.
 
 
I have tried loads of ideas over the years: AKG C547 BL, Neumann U 47 FET, Beyerdynamic M 88, Neumann U 67, Neumann TLM 170, DPA 4006, AKG D30, STC/Coles 4038, Audix D6, Electro-Voice RE20, Sennheiser MD 421 and loads of variations of the NS-10 speaker idea [This is a classic studio trick where a Yamaha NS-10 driver is wired as a microphone and placed in front of the kick. The signal is usually blended with another mic to enhance the low-frequency thump of the drum.] Mic choice is always dependent upon the sound of the instrument and any additional production notes.

I suggest always using a good amount of processing to sharpen or soften transients with compressors. Boost missing frequencies and cut exacerbated frequencies. Also, just try a few crazy ideas every now and then. For me, this sometimes involves using ribbon mics – just having them close enough to overexcite the ribbon, but not blowing them up. Or over-use of hard compression to achieve low-level saturation or distortion.

But mostly, I’m excited about achieving monster sounds through the selection of drums, skins, dampening and tunings. Mostly, I go through a Neve or SSL preamp or channel with a Neve or SSL/Smart compressor, 1176, 660, or dbx-160. For EQ, I use Neve or SSL again, or an API or Pultec.

My choice of compressor is mostly based on what’s available and/or best for achieving the type of compression desired. Mostly, I would use something with adjustable attack, release and ratio. The thing to remember is that you constantly need to be improving the overall sound, not adding something that degrades the transients or tonality. Just listen, try lots of different things and then recall these ideas in different scenarios.

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