Mic placement is a significant part of any recording technique. It’s important to know a bit about placement before you approach recording your drum set. How many mics you use and where you position them will be a very big factor in the sound you capture. In this article we will discuss the main points to bear in mind when you go to record your drums, and also a few handy tips to know along the way.
It’s possible to mic a drum set with only one mic and get a pretty decent sound. Using more microphones gives you more options and allows you to control the individual voices of the instrument independently. With a standard five-piece drum set and cymbals, quite often around six to eight mics will be used – in some cases, a lot more than that. Before we get into the actual miking and placement, let’s talk a little about the actual kit sound.
Tuning is a hugely important aspect of any drum recording and can be the difference between a sweet sounding track and a dismal sounding one. As any drummer will know there are a wide range of drum sounds that are possible with any drum kit. It’s important to know what sound and style you are going for. If you like jazz and are looking for a more ‘open’ sound, then use the appropriate drum heads and tunings. In this case, coated heads are usually the popular choice, along with fairly high batter head tension across all drums. You don’t need to worry with dampening as much when working with an open drum sound.
If, on the other hand, you are aiming for a tighter pop or rock drum sound, then you might want to consider the following tips. Tune each drum so that it create minimal overtones. This generally means using equal tensioning on each tuning lug. Equal tension on each lug creates a more pure tone on the drum head itself. If you find that the drums have too much sustain then you can use professional products such as ‘Moon Gel’ or plain old gaffer tape and cloth.
If this is your first time experimenting with close-miking your drum set then get ready for a steep learning curve. Quite often it is only when we hear the drum set miked that we get to hear the kit in all its glory. At this point you can make alterations to the tuning and dampening if necessary.
Starting with the snare, you can place the mic above the drum head and just over the rim. It’s a good idea to start with the mic pointing at the drum head and about 1-2 inches above the head. You may be using a mic stand or a clip-on mic. Either will give you the flexibility you need here. Depending on your playing style and technique, you may be able to position the mic closer to the centre of the drum. Be careful though, there’s no need to get too close to the centre as this will make for a difficult playing experience.
With the bass drum it’s a common practice to position the mic just outside the air-hole on the front drum head. This will mean that the mic will pick up the sound of the drum and the ‘ooomph’ sound of the air as it rushes to escape out the air-hole. Capturing the moving air in such a manner can actually provide an extra low end to your bass drum sound, which is often much sought after in studios and in live situations. If you don’t have the mic stands to do this you can resort to placing the bass drum mic inside the bass drum. Just make sure that the mic is not in contact with the bare wooden shell of the drum. You can do this by placing it on a towel or on top of the existing dampers.
Most tom mics come with clip-on attachments for easy positioning. Like the snare, aim each tom mic at the centre of the drum and about 1-2 inches above the drum head. You can play around with distances once you have achieved a basic setup.
Most engineers like to use overhead mics when working with drum sets. Overheads not only capture the drums and cymbals but they also give a better sense of the room sound too. Typically you would use two overheads placed at equal heights above the drum kit. Make sure they are well out of reach of the drummer so as to avoid any stick hits. Overheads can be used along with the existing close mics to create a fuller ‘picture’ of the drums. Usually two overhead mics will cross the kit from above. Keep the overheads in a symmetrical position to begin with. One can cover the ride side of the kit while the other can cover the hi-hat side.
Once you have the basics down then it’s up to you to use your ears to determine what you like and what you don’t like. Tuning, mixing and playing style will all have a big effect on the overall drum take, but without the mic placement, there is no take to begin with!
This post was written by Shree who is an avid drummer and musician. He blogs at Ghostnotes covering everything from drums, music production and band management.