Getting THAT Kick Drum with Brian McTear

This morning I reached out to a few respected drummers to get their opinions on a drum kit I thought might be a good fit for the studio.  In the process Brian McTear and I ventured over to topic of getting the kick sound “right” and what right could mean.


I sent Brian an ad for a Tama Rockstar drum kit I found for sale on facebook marketplace. Here's the resulting conversation straight from messenger.

You sent Today at 10:39 AM
Is this (Tama Rockstar Drumkit) something?

Brian sent Today at 11:05 AM
Not sure? I think Rockstars are the lower line. And the dimensions are not what I've been gravitating toward of late.

Brian sent Today at 11:05 AM
The long kick drum, in particular. Those always sound like a bassy basketball in a gym to me.

You sent Today at 11:07 AM
Okay, I wondered about that too. In regard to the kick, we already have that w/ our gretsch ... I like the depth of the sound but alway fight the long pipe kind of overtone.

Brian sent Today at 11:08 AM
Yeah, I tend to like the classic dimensions. A few years ago the only custom manufacturers that would do that were C&C. Now I think there's a lot more.

You sent Today at 11:11 AM
Maybe all I need to find is a more classic sized kick then. I like our toms ... The only time I've gotten a "good" sound from our kick is when we've taken off the front head

Brian sent Today at 11:13 AM
Yeah, and it's not a definite thing that an old kick, even with the right dimensions, will actually be good.

Brian sent Today at 11:13 AM
You have to try them out. Ideally put a mic on it and listen to THAT.

You sent Today at 11:18 AM
I've realized that drums are humanlike ... different personalities almost. For me the kick has been the hardest to get "right" ... or to get something I like

Brian sent Today at 11:20 AM
Me too.

Brian sent Today at 11:20 AM
The key is to find a reference, maybe. Find samples, then A/B with a real drum, in real time. It could be a perspective issue. I often suggest this, but I get the sense people think it's taking things a little too far.

Brian sent Today at 11:20 AM
But I've often thought of having samples on hand, just for this purpose WHILE placing mics. Have never done it though.

You sent Today at 11:23 AM
You may remember Spencer Cindia, he's been out to your workshops, he and I were just talking about that. He's making and selling beats and so he resources all kinds of samples. We talked about building a library of every kit that comes thru the studio for editing BUT also comparison.

Brian sent Today at 11:25 AM
Yeah. That's the idea.

Brian sent Today at 11:25 AM
Though to be really clear, I think you need to find a kick sound in a song (so you know it's actually good in the context of other tracks), source THAT sample, and then use THAT for comparison.

Brian sent Today at 11:25 AM
Because the big question is what it sounds like in context. Much harder to tell for some reason.

You sent Today at 11:27 AM
Great point. There have been times I like the kick when we to phase testing and then when the whole band is in place ... the context doesn't work ... I think masking w/ the bass and lower guitar parts can influence ... so that's a great point, finding a sound that works sonically and stylistically can be the real trick.

Brian sent Today at 11:34 AM
One last thing - you always have to be objective about phase. You can't use a kick if it sounds better to you when flipped.

Brian sent Today at 11:34 AM
The "better" will come back to cause other problems later in the process.

You sent Today at 11:39 AM
This is interesting and might answer why recently, in the mixing stage, I had all the mono drums ... Kick, snare, mid-over ... on one bus and the all the stereo drums ... room L&R, Over L&R, rack and floor toms ... on another bus. Just out of curiosity I flipped the phase of the stereo bus against the mono bus and the kick came back in a big way... It was crazy because we did exactly what you said. During phase checking we picked "what sounded best against the mid-over" ... We were using the weathervane method.

Brian sent Today at 11:41 AM
Yeah, phase isn't a matter of taste. It's either in or out. You can look closely at the waveform to double check.

Brian sent Today at 11:41 AM
Though I haven't done it myself yet, I am coming around to the idea of time aligning for this purpose.

You sent Today at 11:43 AM
haha, I remember that conversation ... I've since avoided it myself ... honestly, it seem like if you leave the rooms out of the conversation, aligning everything else might result in a tighter but still natural sound? Just guessing there too.

Brian sent Today at 11:44 AM
Matt found a plugin that he says does work. I think it's izotope. I think...

You sent Today at 11:46 AM
I've heard about that, I bought the waves version a while back but only used it once. That too seemed to have the same kind of contextual dependency ... I could make the drums sound better alone, but in context the same issue arose.

Checkout Brian's work at Weathervane Music. We occasionally take a group of our engineers to the workshop they offer. If you look thru the offering they have indexed you will find a workshop featuring our own Anya VanRose. If you've read to the end of this article, I promise you will love the Shanking Through series that documents recording projects that Brian produces for Weathervane.