8 Kick Microphones
The kick drum is one of the only things on a drum kit that cannot be fulfilled with pretty much any standard microphone. While it may technically be possible to put a Shure SM57 on a kick and technically get some audio, it will not be great. Kick drums have a very important feature in the drum set, and that is to be the super lows, and ground the whole kit to the ground. In heavy metal, where there tends to be a lot of cymbal and a high end sounds, the kick gets used a lot to ground the piece. This means that the microphone needs to be able to pick up these lows well. Having said that, the kick drum moves a lot of air. There are some pretty impressive pressure levels that this microphone will need to deal with, this generally moves us closer to dynamic microphones rather than condenser microphones. Generally for large Sound Pressure Level (SPL) activities, and for times when the microphones will be close to the source.
So we are looking for a microphone with good low-ends and a good max SPL rating — probably a dynamic. This does remove a large amount of microphones available from being possible candidates, the SM57 that is the “do everything” of the instrument microphone world is removed because it cannot get the lo ends enough. So what microphones are good for this, well at the time of writing about $150 USD is about the amount needed to get a decent kick drum microphone. The two that are used in this book are the Shure Beta 52 and an Electro-Voice ND46. There are both $150-200 USD microphones, The Electro-Voice is probably the cheapest I would go, with an Earthworks SR20LS at $500 USD being the most expensive I would go.
There are two different ways of using a microphone on a kick drum, in and out. There are three possible ways a kick drum could be set up — back skin, hole in the back skin, no back skin. Most jazz drummers prefer to have a whole back skin, while most rock drummers prefer to have a hole in the back skin. Some heavy metal drummers like having no skin. There are different tonalities that come with having the back skin, because of the sound wave reverberating off the back skin, creating overtones and beating together (as discussed in the tuning chapter), it can create different sounds. If the kick drum have a whole skin or no skin there is only one way to use a microphone on it, but if there is a skin with a hole, you could put one microphone in the kick and one microphone out the kick.
In this example we have the ND46 as the “in” mic and the Beta 52 as the “out” mic. My Beta 52 is about 2 decades old and it could use a bit of love, but still works well, so long as gaff tape holds it onto the stand, and holds the microphone body upright (These features were supposedly improved with the Beta 52A that Shure released in 2002). The positioning of the Kick “in” microphone is such that the entirety of the capsule is inside the drum, but it is near the outside. The Kick “out” microphone is about 3-10 mm away from the drum skin, so there is plenty of space for the skin to move, but it is not still very close to the skin. There is a school of thought that thinks the kick “in” microphone should be farther inside the drum, and that can work very will, but it can make it more difficult to mix two kick microphones together because of the difference of the sound waves. Mixing live drums is a lot of thinking about positioning in terms of where the sound waves will get to places when. As discussed in the Snare Mics portion, switching the polarity of the microphone on the bottom keeps it from being destructive interference. The same can happen with kick drum microphones, but the wavelengths are much longer.
To sum up, there are many microphones designed for the kick drum, and this is one of the only times when getting those microphones would be needed. Using a microphone that cannot take the SPL, will break it. Using a microphone that cannot take the low-ends, will mean there is little to no sound from the kick getting through. It behooves us to use the correct microphone, and placing that microphone near the skin (adjusting as needed for the sound) is how to get the best and most consistent kick drum sound.