Unusual Recording Techniques: SM57 in a Bucket of Water Next to the Kick Drum

Marc Henshall | March 27, 2014
At Shure UK we recently read a Sound on Sound article about John Newman & Ant Whiting utilising some unusual recording techniques to produce Newman's debut album 'Tribute'. One trick in particular stood out: Ant Whiting employed a Shure SM57 in a tub of water near the kick drum for what he described as a "lovely wobbly sub thing". Naturally, we were intrigued, and decided to try out some unconventional mic techniques for ourselves. Starting with the 57 in a tub of water, this post marks the start of a new blog series looking at quirky, creative, and unusual mic techniques.

SM57 submerged in water

Why Put a 57 in a Tub of Water?

It's supposedly an old trick, although it's the first we've heard of it. A quick Google search did however reveal a few experiments including a 57 in water - so how does it work? Essentially, the water constantly reacts with the drummers playing to produce a wobbly low frequency noise as well as acting like a natural low-pass filter. In our experiment, we placed the SM57 in a plastic bag, which was sealed using gaffa tape and submerged in a rectangular plastic tub of water. (pictured below)

How Does It Sound?

Whether or not this produces a useable tone as part of your regular drum setup is down to personal taste. In our experience, the experiment produced an interesting and unusual sound more likely to be used creatively as an effects channel. For example, with a little creative automation you can create the impression you've moved from being outside the room where music is playing to actually being in the room. A similar effect can of course be created using a low-pass filter, although the water does produce a more 'lo-fi' sound. Additionally, carrying a heavy tub of water across Shure UK HQ is also pretty good exercise - who needs a gym!

Testing an SM57 in Water


Sonic Experimentation

This experiment was really more about the curiosity factor, so we decided it would be interesting to experiment further with some modulation effects (back to the effect channel concept). A phaser plugin for example, almost seemed to accentuate the under water feel for a great psychedelic sound.

You can hear a sound-clip of both concepts below (Click the left side and you'll hear the effect channel fading in/out with Logic's phaser plugin added during some sections):

[audio mp3="http://shureblog.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/57-in-Tub-of-Water-2.mp3"][/audio]

Important! No SM57's were hurt during the making of this blog, however, if you do try this at home, be extremely careful not to allow water into the bag - either by inadequate sealing or splitting the plastic. Sm57's are built to high standards, but we don't recommend pushing your luck.

Drums being recording by an SM57 in water

More Experimentation...

Join us next week, when we'll be testing out another unconventional mic technique known as the "trash mic method" (another effect channel concept). Subscribe to our RSS feed or join the Shure UK mailing list to receive updates. What's the most unusual mic technique you've used?
Marc Henshall

Marc forms part of our Pro Audio team at Shure UK and specialises in Digital Marketing. He also holds a BSc First Class Hons Degree in Music Technology. When not at work he enjoys playing the guitar, producing music, and dabbling in DIY (preferably with a good craft beer or two).