I was at a party a few nights ago at the home of a drummer friend of mine. He’s a killer drummer. He’s played with Keith Urban, Gary Allen, and others.

He was showing me his basement studio, where he does some drum tracking. He had some great Heil mics, Daking and API preamps, and a few other goodies.

I’m not a drummer, so I can’t tell you what kind of kit he had, but it sounded nice.

But there was one thing that caught my attention…and was really fascinating. I think there’s a lesson for us home studio folk here.

Floor Tom as a KICK Drum?

I know. I thought it was silly at first.

Next to his kit, Tim had a floor tom resting on its side like a kick drum. It was in some sort of stand built to hold drums, djembes, etc. in a “kick drum” position.

I didn’t think much of it until he played a track he had recorded using this makeshift kick drum. And…wow. It sounded great. It had plenty of low end and a LOT of punch. I was shocked.

Naturally, I had him play the drum for me so I could listen to it. As it turns out, it sounds nothing like a kick drum. No, really. It sounded like a floor tom on its side, being played with a beater.

So my next thought was, “Okay, he must’ve processed it like crazy to get that sound.” Nope.

As it turns out…

Mic Placement is Everything.

While the drum didn’t sound all that impressive at first, when Tim put a mic on it and actually RECORDED something, he discovered a killer kick drum sound. And he didn’t do any crazy processing on it either, just normal EQ and compression.

I wouldn’t have discovered this sound. I would have listened to the drum for a second or two then moved on to something else.

Yes, you need to get it right at the source, but sometimes the “source” is a tiny little area on a tom that you can’t hear unless you slap a mic in front of it.

Don’t Judge a Sound By Its Cover

While you certainly need to record quality instruments (and quality performances), sometimes you need to take an extra 5 minutes to experiment further.

No, that guitar might not sound right, but what if we moved the microphone WAY over here? Or what if we faced the mic away from the guitar? Or what if we put the guitarist in a completely different room? The hallway maybe?

Your mixes are dependent on capturing good sounds. There are two main parts to capturing a good sound. First, you need a good source. Secondly, you need a good method of capturing that source.

That’s where mic placement and technique become invaluable.

What are you going to experiment with next time you’re in the studio?

[Photo Credit]

14 Responses to “An Unlikely Kick Drum”

  1. Nathan

    I have been using my floor tom instead of my bass drum as my kick drum for quite some time now in my recordings. In the recordings, it’s somewhat difficult to tell the difference between it and a normal sized kick drum. It sounds a little bit higher pitched which is why I use it, it sounds great for the “folkish” type music I make.

    I removed all the floor tom legs, and used the 2 kick drum legs to prop it’s back end up, and built my own front stand out of wood and a hinge at the bottom that I clamp my kick pedal onto. I got this DIY floor tom converter technique from a google search. Can’t seem to find it anymore, but I’m sure I’m just not looking hard enough. I tuned the head down much looser than a usual floor tom and completely removed the resonant head.

    Took a lot of experimenting with tuning and damping and mic placement to get the exact sound I was going for, but I really like how it’s sounding these days. The damping was key. I use a small blanket folded up laying across the bottom of the inside of the drum barely touching the bottom inside edge of the beater head. Anymore beater head contact and it was too dead, any less and it sounded like a marching bass drum.

    • Joe Gilder

      Sweet, thanks for the info, Nathan. You know what I love about it? I can tell you spent a lot of time just TRYING things and listening. That’s how you know exactly what position is best for the blanket.

      I wish more people would do that, rather than just tracking it and trying to fix it with fancy EQ’s and compressors. ūüôā

  2. Rickthewebguy

    Any chance you could post a sample of the recording. We’d love to hear it!

  3. Joel

    I’ve often thought about tying to use a floor tom as a kick drum in an ulta portable kit. I’m glad to hear that it can get a great sound when miked.

    Also, I had an audio engineer professor who told a story of having to replace a kick drum sound for a project – probably in the 70’s. Because of restraints in resources he ended up tapping with his finger directly on an sm57 wrapped in some fabric. Pretty lo-fi, but resourceful.

  4. Tp

    Joe, ¬†Way back in the day there was a kit called a “cocktail kit.” ¬†Probably Ludwng but I am not sure. ¬†The kick was about the size of a floor tom. ¬†In a small lounge it allowed the drummer to play the kick hard without masking other frequencies. ¬†It’s hard to kick quietly as drummers know. ¬†Maybe 71+’, Santa Cruz, a guy named Larry Bianco, “great drummer”, used this kit to great advantage. ¬†They also used this kit in Las Vegas casino lounges so the bank would not blow out the gamers. ¬†

  5. Huub

    I recently recorde a mandolin with a km184 behind the neck. Beautiful to get rid of the harsh transients.
    I often use a ( deeep ) cajon to simulate a kickdrum. Blends beautiful with flamencoguitar and fretless bass.

  6. Anonymous

    Wow. Randomly awesome how things work out that way. But here’s a question — How do you develop the ear to know where exactly to place the mic. I know that you can move it around to find the best tone, but how can you determine, “Hey, if I put the mic in this adjacent room, it will give me that ________ sound I’m looking for!” Is it just experience? When I set out to record and “get it right at the source”, do I need to have every sound mapped out in Pre-Pro? (i.e. I want a guitar that sounds like ________ right here in the song, and here’s how I’m going to achieve it.”) Or does a lot of this happen in the studio? If so, is it important to set aside “experimentation” time while in the studio?

    That’s a WHOLE lot of questions, so feel free to skip over some. ūüôā

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey man. I’d say a lot of it is just experience. You really can’t predict what a mic will capture, which is why even top engineers will still spend a lot of time getting the right mic placement before they record.

      As far as knowing what sound you want beforehand…it’s NICE, but a lot of times my projects are a combination of “I KNOW I want THIS tone” and “HEY! That tone rocks, let’s do that.”

      A combo of good planning and “happy accidents” makes for a nice recording.

  7. Anonymous

    I had the same thing recently Joe, I was at a festival and the drummer of one of the bands was playing the snare drum with two different cymbals on it. It was a weird idea, but when he played it with brushes it sounded great. Check it out! http://talesofaudio.tumblr.com/post/7657783361/lotf

  8. Austin Lauritsen

    Depending on the type of music, a medium sized cardboard box with good mic placement¬†is an great alternative and unlikely “kick drum” on tracks I’ve played on in the past. I’ve found the medium box from U-Haul has enough surface area to¬†resonate¬†and enough build quality to not cave in under the stress of the kick pedal beater. ¬†Great article Joe!


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