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NAMM Sneak Peek

Miking A Bass Drum

Not to open a can of worms here, but we’ve been getting a variety of questions similar to this one below. There is a common answer to many of them.

“I have a Pearl Export bass drum, I’m using a Shure sm57 mic going into a Samson Mixpad 12 (with only a 100hz and high range EQ). I want to be able to get punch and boom, but without that strong mid-frequency resonance.”

There are thousands of ways documented to record various instruments, and for every way there are 10,000 other opinions one can get by simply asking. I shall not assume my opinion is any more valid than these others by attempting to tell you what I would do. Rather I will lay out a few general points that may help you find your own way.

Step 1 is usually to get the instrument sounding the way you want it acoustically. You can make a bad sounding instrument sound better through various recording tricks, but you’re far better off starting with good source material. If it doesn’t sound good acoustically, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Step 2 is getting a microphone capable of capturing the sound you have created. I could quickly name 10 different microphones that are great for recording bass drum (SM57 is not one of them) that all sound different. The one you choose will depend on your personal preference (someone out there will send me irate e-mail extolling the virtues of the SM57 on bass drum). The specific one you choose is only important to you and what you think works best. There are all kinds of considerations in this choice: polar pattern, size, frequency response, cost, transient response, linearity, proximity effect, impulse response, and more. We don’t have space here for a class in microphones, but suffice to say that there are a wide variety of factors that affect a microphone’s effectiveness on various instruments.

Step 3 is working with the positioning of the microphone so it is capturing the sound you want. Sometimes moving a mic as little as one centimeter can make a big difference. Also the orientation of the mic will cause significant changes in sound. This is mostly trial and error until you have tons of experience.

Step 4 – Assuming steps 1, 2, and 3 cannot be completely fulfilled to perfection (which is usually the case) you must resort to equalization. You are most likely going to need more than a two-band shelving EQ though. Consider a high quality parametric where you can specifically tune the response to accentuate what you like about the sound you are getting while de-emphasizing frequencies you don’t like (such as that flappy (subjective audio term #89) midrange you made reference to).

This should put you well on your way. There are volumes written on this subject. I’ve left out many potentially important factors, but the four steps listed are always essential things to consider.

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