A kick drum lesson I learned while recording Andrew Bird
I had the awesome opportunity to record Andrew Bird yesterday.
We recorded him at the local community radio station I do occasional broadcast engineering for.
We don’t usually use the radio studio in the typical recording studio fashion. Everything is live, straight to radio, so there’s no chance for the band to listen back, edit takes together or do overdubs. The band usually comes in, sets up, we do a quick sound check and then they go on the air (whether we’re ready or not!)
But, in Andrew Bird’s case, we made an exception.
They came in early so we could spend some time getting a good sound. He also used the extra time to record a song he needed to do for a friend’s podcast so the first part of the session was more like a typical studio recording session than a radio broadcast.
That meant I had to figure out how to make the radio control room do things that it wasn’t designed to do. But with elaborate routing, some random cable adaptors and using outputs that shouldn’t be used as outputs we finally managed to do some proper back and forth listening to get the proper sound we needed.
We still couldn’t do any overdubs or post-production because we recorded everything straight to a CD recorder, but it was a lot of fun using the limited options available to us to make the live recording sound like a professionally produced mix.
During this process, we were having a hard time getting a good kick drum sound. It always sounded really woofy, thick but not in the way a kick drum should sound.
It was like everything except the actual kick drum was adding a bunch of low-end boominess.
Turns out, the compressor was responsible.
We had a dbx 160 on the kick and every time the compressor reset it felt like it was inhaling the room sound around itself, causing the kick drum to get lost along the way.
Once we turned down the compression the kick came back and added that nice and warm thickness the song needed.
So think about that next time you’re confused about why your kick drum is getting lost in the mix. Maybe the compressor is causing some unwanted roominess to your kick drum sound.
Actually, if your kick drum has a lot of room sound there’s another way to fix that without sacrificing the tightness from the compressor.
Using a transient designer can shape your kick so that it punches through the mix, while literally deleting the room sound around it.
It’s something I show you in one of the Drum Mix Toolkit videos.
Peter Thompson of The Magic Es remixed one of his songs, “Headrush,” after learning the techniques inside the Drum Mix Toolkit.
He made the entire kit sound punchier, more present and powerful after the remix.