Generally it’s best to avoid the use of heavy reverb on bass and kick drum tracks, since the extra reverberant low frequencies can quickly lead to a muddy sound. (Remember: Excessive bass causes amateur sounding tracks.)
But when used sparingly, a tight short reverb effect can add body and punch to a dull kick drum. This is especially useful in home recordings where the drums are often dry samples, or tracks recorded in bedrooms and basements with poor live sound.
Here’s an example to illustrate how reverb can beef up a bass drum. As I mentioned in The Morning Rain post from which I took the sample, I used a no-nonsense mic arrangement: Stereo room mics, a single mic on the kit, and an SM58 in the kick drum.
Here are the drums as recorded, with the kick drum track untreated:
In the next sample, I added a short reverb tail to the kick drum only. I used the Kjaerhus Classic Reverb for this example (though there are a few other free reverb effects listed in the great free vocal plugins post, including Mac-based options.) I set a room size of 65 square meters, dampened as many high frequencies as possible, and blended the signal on the dry side.
Here’s how it sounds:
The effect is subtle, but obvious.
Though it’s more obvious in the solo’d kick drum track. The first 3 hits in this next sample are dry, and the last 3 have the reverb applied. Notice how dead the kick drum sounds by itself (I recorded it with an SM58, after all,) and how much more body there is to the tone with reverb applied:
Some notes about this technique:
- It works best on sparse tracks, when the drum hits have space between them. If the track is already dense, adding reverb usually just yields mud.
- It will work on miked or sampled kick drums, but it’s most effective on dry, flat sounds. Basically, if you’re stuck recording your kick drum with an SM57, a little reverb can work wonders to deliver usuable tones.
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