Kick/Bass drum is what drives rock music. It’s what makes hip hop danceable. It’s how jazz drummers push the band. Such a special drum needs special treatment, especially in the studio!
As with recording any instrument, the choice of drum and the manner of its tuning and preparation can make a huge difference to the sound you capture, so this should always be the place to start.
So don’t forget to tune the drums before you record – I wouldn’t recommend the human-ear-sweet-spot positioning method though, unless you want to go deaf. Nile Rodgers goes so far as to say (in the SoS interview)
Even if the band uses one drum kit for the whole record, I want it tuned right for each song. We’ll change the heads or tune it differently, all that kind of stuff. Sometimes we change the beaters… It all depends on how those frequencies are responding to the key of the music, to the pulse of the music. Every record is different, every song is different, every tape is different.
It’s important to note that there are a wide variety of opinions on how to get the best kick drum sound even among sound engineers. These are only some of the possibilities.
Joe Chiccarelli likes the two mic approach, which is especially popular in rock music.
“In most situations I tend to use two mics: one inside to gather the impact, and one outside to capture the “tone” – the overall note and picture of the drum.”
If the drummer doesn’t have a hole cut in the front head, or doesn’t want one, you can point a mic at the contact point of the beater on batter head. This will deliver a similar *click* sound to a mic inside the drum. Be careful of sound bleeding into this mic though, since it’s not shielded from the other sounds by the shell of the drum, you’ll need to be wary of phase problems.
Adjusting the distance of the outside mic(s) is the best way to deal with phase problems, but if you don’t have the time to experiment until you have the two mics in phase with each other (maximizing the amount of bass they pick up) you can always add a few ms of delay to one of the mics to get them in phase later on.
Chiccarelli also shares one of his tricks on how to get a processed/low-fi drum sound.
Old cassette decks with built-in limiters can deliver quite a quirky picture of a drum. It instantly sounds like a processed drum loop.
He specifically mentions putting said cassette deck inside the bass drum, to get a squashed sound, as well as putting it in the room to pick up the whole kit.
I’m not the first to come up with this, and many other (much more knowledgeable people) have already written up how EQ affects the kick drum sound. Here it is as Laskow states in his Taxi FAQ:
If you need more bottom end, try boosting @ 60 or 100Hz. Try rolling off lower mids (300-700Hz) to get rid of a box-like sound. To add more attack, try boosting in the 1K to 3K range.
For bottom end there is no substitution for running a spectrum analyzer to find the fundamental frequency and boosting that specifically. Believe me it works 100 times better than just randomly boosting some random low frequency.
Also, Boosting between 600-900Hz will give you more punch. If necessary, you can try to reduce bleed from the cymbals by reducing above 3k with a LPF or a High Shelf.
Close mics (the ones you put inside the kick, or point at the contact point of the beater) These are for capturing the attack:
For the outside/distance mics, large diaphragm microphones work well to capture the low frequencies:
Again, what really matters is that the drums fit the mood/atmosphere of the song, not just “objectively good” drum sounds.