The Best Bass Drum Beaters for Outdoor Drumming
In this guide, we’ll hear from a few Low Boy artists on which bass drum beaters they prefer and also get gear and tuning tips from a live sound engineer who mans the board for large outdoor shows.
Outdoor drumming is an entirely different animal. Whether you’re playing a backyard barbeque or a festival stage, the lack of walls or a ceiling means the sound has nowhere to go but up. This can be a real challenge for players who are used to hearing their drums at home or in a small venue. Choosing the right gear can make a huge difference in getting a good sound for outdoor playing. In this guide, we’ll hear from a few Low Boy artists on which bass drum beaters they prefer and also get gear and tuning tips from a live sound engineer who mans the board for large outdoor shows.
These gigs come in many shapes and sizes, so the first thing to think about when you’re putting your rig together is “will the kick drum be mic’d?” Ideally, it would be since that’s the best way to get a full sound. But sometimes circumstances dictate that you play acoustically with no amplification. In this case, the Low Boy Standard wood beater is a great choice since it has a ton of attack and a flat striking surface that will cut through the mix.
Low Boy artist Jason “JT” Thomas often uses this beater for outdoor shows with artists like Snarky Puppy and Mark Lettieri, and while his kick drum is usually mic’d, he appreciates the attack and control the Standard wood beater provides. “If we’re playing outside I usually use the wood beater. I always keep both the felt and wood beaters with me. When I first tried it, I noticed immediately that I got more control out it because of the shape.” He also sees the flat striking surface of the Felt Daddy as a big upgrade over round beaters. “It’s just the right amount of felt and the shape of it is perfect.”
If you’re lucky enough to play a big outdoor stage with mics, monitors and a sound man, it opens up a world of sonic possibilities. Engineer Nick Amento, who mixes everything from massive outdoor festivals to state fairs with his company SB Productions, feels it’s important for drummers to show up with the right gear for any musical situation. ”My personal philosophy is that it’s not up to the sound person to tell a musician what their instrument should sound like. If someone rolls in with a nicely tuned kit, that’s fantastic and it will influence my mic selection and how I go about getting the best sound. There’s a lot of variables that go into getting that sound. The first is what type of band it is and the music they’re playing. If it’s a rock show, it’s great to have a nice, tight kick drum with a good amount of attack that the mic will respond well to. For jazz or lighter music, I’d use a different mic to change the dynamic. You’re not going for the low frequencies as much, and you want to hear the entirety of the drum. 99 percent of the time, the drums are setting the tone and vibe for everyone else in the band, so you want that foundation to be as solid as possible.”
Besides having a well-tuned drum, Amento sees the drummer’s choice of beater as an important, under-the-radar factor. “You can change so many aspects of the sound by changing that beater. A lot times for festivals, I can’t do any advance work and don’t really know what someone is gonna show up with.“
Low Boy artist Mike Meadows (Hayes Carll/Willie Nelson/Shawn Colvin) agrees that it’s important to come prepared with a few options. “If you have all these types of beaters ready to go, you can create completely different sounds.” He also thinks that when the kit is mic’d up, “it doesn’t really matter if it’s outside – your sound is your sound. You can use the same tools. I like the Leather Daddy for stuff that really smacks. I’d say that in live situations, most of the time I’m using a Standard Felt beater because I like the weight.”
Amento uses the same philosophy with his mic selections. “I usually have four or five mic choices to compensate for different drum sounds. Each mic has its own characteristics. You have a little more leeway outdoors since you don’t have the reflections and slap-back to deal with. Even if there’s a backwall or a roof, it’s not as much as an indoor venue.”
He adds that when the engineer and drummer work together to come up with all these different mic, tuning and beater options, he ends up using less processing tricks to make the drums sound good. “For the most part, bass drums don’t require a ton of processing unless something is really off. I’ll use a compressor and a gate to get some attack if the drum sounds floppy. Everyone has their own tricks.”
So choosing the right beater for outdoor drumming really comes down to where you’re playing and whether the kick drum will be mic’d. If you’re playing acoustically, it’s best to use a heavier option like the Standard wood beater to give you enough attack and tone to cut through the mix. If your drums are mic’d, it opens up a full range of musical choices. You can use the Standard or Lightweight Puff Daddy for mellower tones, the Felt Daddy for warmth and precision, the Leather Daddy for slightly more punch and the all-wood beater for the most attack.
Meadows concludes that regardless of where you are, “if you have all these different types of beaters ready to go, you can create completely different sounds. I think it’s underutilized a lot. These are simple, tiny things you can do quickly to change the sound and support the music.”
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By Rob Mitzner
New York-based session drummer and writer Rob Mitzner has recorded for Billboard Top-10 charting albums, films, and Broadway shows, and performed at Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian, Caesar’s Palace, The Blue Note, Boston Symphony Hall and for President Obama in his hometown of Washington D.C. He has been featured in national publications such as Downbeat magazine and Modern Drummer, and his credits include over 60 commercially available albums across many genres. When he’s not playing and touring, Rob spends his days at C-Room Studio in Brooklyn cutting drum tracks, shedding funky electric bass and writing articles. His new book “Drumming in a Band: Stuff You Can Use” is due to be released by Hudson Music in early 2022. Rob holds a B.A. in Music and Political Science from Brown University, and is a proud endorser of Paiste Cymbals, Remo Drumheads, Hendrix Drums and Drumdots.