Q. Can I achieve a better kick sound?

Published in SOS November 2009
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I want to replace the kick drum on our drum kit with a MIDI kick pad, as our kick drum sounds rubbish, and we're now using MIDI kick instead, which works much better. The trouble is that we want to be able to play (and record) the MIDI kick live rather than add it later. I've seen kick pads for a kick pedal, which appear to be for triggering a module sound, but we want to actually record the live MIDI information, not the audio from a module, so we can 'straighten' it later, change sounds, and so on. A trigger on the drum won't work either, because we don't want the kick bleed on the other drums.

Via SOS web site

SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton replies: If I understand correctly, you want to record an acoustic drum kit at the same time as recording a MIDI signal for the kick, but you don't want to play an acoustic kick drum because you don't want that sound to bleed onto the other kit mics. It sounds easy enough, doesn't it?

Personally, if I'm mixing and matching MIDI-triggered samples and audio drums, I prefer to just record the full acoustic kit as normal, with a close mic on the kick. After recording, I feed the kick signal to Drumagog or KT Drum Trigger drum‑replacer software (there are plenty of other options out there too), which, in turn, triggers drum‑sound software (in my case, BFD). If you use Drumagog, it's pretty easy to blend the sample with the natural sound to get something very usable — and if the spill in other close mics is bothering you, it's usually easy enough to remove the offending kick with gating or a bit of high‑pass filtering. The advantage of working in this way is that the drummer can hear the kick as part of the kit, which might make for a more natural recorded performance.

If you really don't want the acoustic kick present while recording, there are plenty of dedicated kick‑drum pads that can be used in conjunction with a normal kick pedal. There's one on my Roland TD6K V‑Drums kit, for example, and there are plenty of similar models on the market from Yamaha, Clavia, Alesis and others. However, most of these require a drum brain to turn each pedal hit into a MIDI signal that can be sent into the computer — which begins to seem a bit expensive for your purposes.

Another, cheaper, option would be to create a similar pad yourself. It should be easy enough to use a contact mic, suitably protected by a bit of rubber. You can send the resulting audio signal through your drum triggering/replacement software but, importantly, it doesn't matter what sort of sound you get (even if it is horribly distorted), because you're not going to listen to it: you're just using it as a trigger. You can pick up a contact mic for under a pound, and the required software for a donation of your choice (KT Drum Trigger, from www.smartelectronix.com). If you can give the drummer a suitable pad to stomp on, you might not even need a proper kick pedal for this. If this doesn't appeal, you could always try mapping any MIDI foot controller's switch to trigger a MIDI note and use that instead.

Finally, you say that your kick drum sounds "rubbish” and it seems that you're seeking not an 'electro' or unusual kick sound, just a better one. In light of that, it's probably worth having a good look at your kick drum itself, checking that it's tuned as well as it possibly can be, and if not, tuning it. It might even be worth replacing it with a better‑sounding kick drum, as an alternative to the more complicated MIDI route.  

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