Pretty much anyone could mic a kit by just throwing mics up in what appear to be sensible places. But it’s good to have a few methods up your sleeve for when your mic or mixer channel resources are limited. So I’ve written a series of posts on micing a kit, covering several scenarios and micing techniques for drums that will see you through most circumstances.
Scenario #1 – The Full Monty
OK, well I named this one myself, but it simply means a scenario where you have all the mics and mixer channels you could wish for – knock yourself out!
Overheads – stereo pair of condensers.
First off you want a nice matched (if possible) pair of condenser overheads. Matched pairs of mics have more or less exactly the same frequency response and characteristics which makes for a better stereo image. If you’re multi tracking your recording, these could be large or small diapragm condensers. If you’re recording a live band, it’s best to use more directional small-diaphragm condensers to cut out bleed from other sound sources such as guitars amps.
You can position these up above the the cymbals of the kit in front of the kit pointing slightly down towards the centre of the kit. They can either be spaced to the left and right of the kit, or you can use an XY or ORTF configuration where each mic is placed close together pointing at the left and right side of the kit. I’ll cover XY and ORTF stereo micing in another post, but this is all you’ll need to know for now.
Good mics for this application:
- Rode NT1A matched pair
- Rode NT5 or M5 matched pair
- SE Electronics X1 matched pair
- Samson C02 matched pair
- Studio Projects C4 matched pair
Snare – Shure SM57
Everyone has at least one of these mics in their aresenal – if you don’t, get one! They’re useful for so many applications. This is a dynamic mic with a tight cardioid pickup pattern which makes it good for rejecting other sound sources – it also has a proximity bass effect when close to sound sources and can take high sound pressure levels. These mics are particularly sensitive to mid-range frequencies and are pretty much the industry standard snare mic.
Have your SM57 set up above the far rim of the top side of the snare pointing at either the rim, if you want to accentuate ring, or more towards the centre of the drum if you want to get more smack and less ring. You can also experiment with the distance of the mic to see what sounds best. You should try and position the mic so that the back (bottom) of the mic is facing the hi-hats. The rear of the mic is most likely to shun sound from behind, cutting out bleed from the hats.
If you have another SM57 you could always chuck it on the bottom side of the snare in a similar way to the top mic, to pick up on the snare strings’ rattle. Just make sure you flip the phase on this mic on the mixer since your mics will be facing eachother and will most likely be out of phase with eachother.
Hi-Hats – cardioid / super or hyper cardioid small diaphragm condenser
You want a mic with a good high-frequency response and a tight pickup pattern to deal with bleed. Position the mic facing directly down on the hi-hats. Nearer the bell will give you a tighter crisper sound, and nearer the edge will give you a good loud rattle-y tschrrrp sound.
Some nice affordable mics you could use for this application could be:
- Shure SM81 – Not so affordable but mentioned as it’s pretty much the industry standard hi-hat mic.
- Rode NT5 or M5
- Samson C02
- Studio Projects C4
- AKG Perception 170
Kick drum – Dedicated kick or bass dynamic mic
The kick could be miked with a standard dynamic mic such as an SM58, but you’ll get much better results using a dedicated bass or kick mic such as the AKG D112 which is widely regarded as the go-to mic for recording kick drums. It has a large diaphragm with a built in wind-shield to guard against popping and has a frequency response tailored for bass instruments.
Experiment with placing the mic inside the drum, just at the aperture of a mic port or just outside. Personally, I find it best to place it inside the drum, pointing at the beater. This helps to eliminate bleed and gets you a big bass-y sound with a nice amount of beater.
Adding another mic on the beater side of the kick drum can give you a bit more attack to play with, but you are most often just introducing further phase and bleed complications by doing this.
Other mics you could use for recording kick (or bass guitar) are:
- Shure Beta 52A – just as good as the D112, but also features a super-cardioid polar pickup pattern which helps to eliminate bleed, and allows for more tonal control with mic positioning. Also has a good proximity effect.
- Sennheiser e902 and e602 II
- Audix D6
Toms – Dynamic mic
If you’re on a budget, I reckon just about any half-decent dynamic mic will do for toms. There are also a lot of drum mic kits you can buy that have small clip on dynamic mics which are perfect for attaching to toms.
Mics should be positioned around the edge of the drum pointing towards the centre. As always, experiment with positioning to achieve the tone you want. It’s good to position the mics so that the rear of the mics face the cymbals for maximum rejection.
Other mics for toms include:
- Sennheiser MD421 and MD441 – these are industry standards for toms
- EV RE20
- A good clip on mic kit for toms is the affordable Sennheiser e604 3-pack.
Cymbals – Small diaphragm condensors or dynamic mics with a good high end
Cymbals don’t often need their own mics, as the overheads’ job is to pick them up. However, if you were finding that bleed was a problem using overheads, you could instead close mic the cymbals which may reduce bleed from the room, even if it means a little more bleed from the toms and snare.
Finally, if you’re recording drums in a room where the acoustics are part of the sound, you might want to use some room mics. You’d probably only use them when multi-tracking. A pair of good large diaphragm condensers placed fairly far away from the kit and spaced quite wide is a good place to start. There aren’t many rules here. You can try anything from pointing the mics at the kit, to having them high or low or even pointing them into the corners to pick up reflected sound. You could even go as far as isolating the kit from mics with gobos. Get creative!
Got Some Mics left over and time to kill?
If you’re time-rich and your are also mic-rich, you lucky thing, you might want to try using some additional alternative mics on some of your drums just for a little A/B comparison. The mics suggested in this article are pretty tried and tested, but some are just suggestions based on price – there are no hard and fast rules, you can use whatever you want as long as it gets you a sound you’re happy with.
A Word About Tuning
It sort of goes without saying that if you have a poor instrument or it’s badly tuned or badly played, then it doesn’t matter how great your miking techniques are, it’s just going to be a good recording of a bad performance which defeats the purpose. So it’s a great idea to get some basic understanding of tuning drums, so even in the unlikely event that your drummer doesn’t know what he’s doing with tuning, you can be on hand to help.
I’ll be covering tuning drums in another post shortly, so stay tuned! :-S