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How To Mic Drums
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How To Mic Drums

For the duration of this article I will assume that this reader is a novice at audio engineering and has a basic knowledge and understanding of audio concepts and principles. This is not written for the audio professional although I'd be happy to have comments from such in order to continue the education of the audio newbie in hopes of making happy music!

Whether in professional recording studios, home recording studios, or live sound music production, anytime there is a drum kit to set up and mic, there are going to be questions on how to do it the right way. With this question there will come a million different answers and the audio forums are just blown to pieces with this type of topic line. So although we could discuss this for weeks on end and then more and more after that, let's just get to the basic most fundamental aspects of setting up microphones on a drum kit.

The first thing I want to state is that there is no wrong way to mic a drum kit, only better and worse. Hey if the microphone picks up the kit, you mic'd it right!

Microphone placement in a recording setting is much more critical as it pertains to sonic excellence. However it's also just as important for live sound, not only for getting a great drum sound, but also keeping the mix clean and feedback free. In this article we are going to assume that the drum kit in question is a very simple kit without a lot of extra auxiliary type of drums and no integrated MIDI instrument triggers or anything like that.

Let's consider we have a 5 piece kit with basic cymbal content, so it would look something like this.

1. kick 2. snare 3. hi hat 4. rack tom 5. rack tom 6. floor tom 7. cymbals = overlead left and overhead right

The basic microphone placement techniques that I'm going to discuss here can be used either in studio or live sound environments. However like I previously stated, this is a very basic discussion just to get you started. There are many variations of this that will all produce a different type of drum sound.

Most of the microphones you choose to put on the actual drums should be dynamic microphones. Dynamic microphones are great at rejected unwanted noise from other instruments and when you consider the fact that you are placing microphones all around the drum kit it's obvious that the mic on the snare drum is going to pick up other drums on the kit. So the better the rejection of the microphones you intend to use on the kit the better the isolation of the drum you intend to mic. Regardless of the microphone you choose to put on the snare drum that microphone is going to be picking up other drums. So when you start equalizing the snare drum, the less bleed through you have on that microphone from other drums, the less your eq'ing is going to effect that bleed through sound.

Ok so let's look at microphone placement. In a recording studio the first thing I would recommend is to take off the front head off the kick drum. However I would not do this in a live sound environment. If it's live, just put the mic inside the hole cut in the front drum head if there is one. If the head is removed then start by placing the head of the microphone exactly half way inside the drum pointed directly at the impact zone of where the drum pedal hits the batter head. If you don't like this sound then back the microphone up where the head of the microphone is equal to the outside of where the resonant head would be if it was still on the drum.

In a live sound setting sometimes you don't have the option to do much more than put the head of the microphone inside the hole that's cut in the drum head. If you have this option try to get the mic as far inside that hole as you can while ensuring that the front of the mic is placed exactly at in spot where the kick drum pedal hits the batter head. Achieving this will help with capturing the attack of the drum. Not every sound a kick drum makes has low end frequency content and to ensure you get the drum sound natural, you have to capture all the sounds that drum makes, not just the bottom end. I

f you mic'd the drum without the front head once you have a good sounding spot I recommend putting a big comforter around the outside of the kick drum where the head use to be. Just throw it one on there and even if it has to touch the mic stand the kick drum mic is on don't worry. Just listen. Then move the blanket around a little more and just listen some more. You'll find that even moving a blanket around will change the sound of the drum. Here are a few of the most popular kick drum microphone recommendations: Shure Beta52, Audix D6, AKG D112, Sennheiser MD421, EV RE20.

Now on to the snare drum. There are a lot of options here but we are going to consider that you are using what is probably the most popular snare microphone of all time, the Shure SM57. Start with placing the microphone between the hihat and snare drum if possible. Pointing the rear of the microphone directly at the hihat. The most microphones like the SM57 reject the best from the rear of the mic. So if the rear of the mic is pointed at the hihat there is a great chance that the hihat will be rejected greatly from that perspective. Start with pointing the microphone directly at the center of the snare drum. Now just listen. Then move the head of the microphone half way between the center of the drum and the edge of the drum. Now listen. You'll notice that doing this will most likely result in capturing more "ring" of the drum as you'll be hearing more of the edge of the snare where the rim is located. Once you've found the place that gives you the snare drum sound you're looking for then stop. It's not uncommon however to not get the sound you're looking for. At that point you have to start chaning things and asking some questions: Is the drum tuned properly? Do i need a different microphone? Am I equalizing the drum properly? Here is a list of some of the most popular snare drum microphones: Shure SM57, Audix I5, Beyer M201, Audio Technica AT4041

Next let's look at the rack tom and floor toms. Before you begin microphone placement on these drums it is absolutely critical that the drum is tuned properly. There are thousands of tutorials and videos drummers can use to learn this. Just remember that tuning the bottom head is just as important if not more important than the tuning of the top head. Listen for pitch drops. The pitch of the drum should be constant. If when the drum is hit the pitch drops, then go to the lugs and start tuning the drum. You'll be kicking yourself all day trying to mic and eq a rack tom and floor tom if the tuning of the drum is off.

If you are having a hard time controlling the resonance of the drum or it just sounds too "loose", then try to apply some dampening on the heads. If you don't have any moongel, then get some toilet paper, wrap it up into a small square and tap it down on the outside of the head. You'll notice a huge difference in the sound of the drum by doing this. It's important to consider the placement of the mic here just as the snare. Try to position the mics so the cymbals around them are directly behind the microphone while at the same time pointing the microphone only at the drum you wish to mic. Start at the center of the drum and move the mic position back just as with the snare drum until the desired sound is achieved. Mic position is cirital with the tom's. In my opinion, in live sound the tom mic placement could be more important that any other drum mic. Here are a list of some popular tom and floor tom mics: Sennheiser E604, Sennheiser E904, Sennheiser MD421, Audix D2 and D4, Beyer M201

Hi Hat - there are many audio engineers that may not actually place a hi-hat mic on the kit. This of course is a debatable topic as they will use the overhead mics or snare mic to capture the hi-hat performance. If you choose to mic the hi-hat (i recommend you do if you're not experienced) then it's important to understand the type of mic that will be best suited for this. Typically you'll find what is called a small diaphram pencil condenser used in this application. They tend to reject better than larger condensers and are better at picking up this type of frequency content. Placement of this microphone can be tricky as it's a condenser and picks up much more than a condenser, therefore your bleed through of other drums can/will be much more significant. I will suggest starting with placing the microphone on the outside edge of the hihats and tilting the back of the mic where the cable is towards the drum kit. This will actually mean the head of the microphone is pointing away from the drum kit and hopefully will allow for high rejection of the other drums on the kit.

Overhead microphones - Overhead microphones can be the best or worst part of the entire drum sound. They allow for not only capturing the cymbal performance but also the overall ambience of the kit itself. It's highly recommened that you use condenser microphones and a stereo mic pattern for the overheads. This will create space in the mix and create a more realistic reproduction of the kit. Remember it's very important to keep the microphones exactly the same distance respectfully from the center of the kick drum. The kick is the center of the kit. Measure the distance from the top of the kick drum to the exact spot of your overheads. This can be easily achieved just by using a mic cable. If you like where the left overhead is living on the kit, measure it with a mic cable. Then use that exact length of cable to place your other microphone. Try to make them a mirrors image of each other. A good place to start is about 2 feet above the highest placec cymbal. Using what is called and x/y pattern take the right overhead mic and point it across to the left side of the drum and do the opposite with the other mic. So you are standing in front of the kit from the audiences perspective, the left overhead will be pointing down and across to the right side of the kit. I personally will typically start by pointing the head of the microphone to the most outside area of the kit to ensure the overhead is shooting over every element of the drum kit. Do this with both mics. If you don't like what you hear, then begin to slowly move the microphones to point inward towards the kit allowing for a more direct mic placement for the overheads.

Personally speaking setting up and mic'ing a drum kit and getting it sounding great is my favorit part of getting ready to play or record. It's very challenging and sets the foundation for everything else you're going to do. Get the drum sound right and you'll be feeling great about getting the rest of the band ready to go! Good luck and I'm happy to help with any questions you may have. There are many tools you can use to enhace your drum mix once you get the mic placement right. These tools are commonly known as dynamic processors.

Remember, this is a very basic article geared towards simply trying to reduced the fear of setting up basic mics around a basic drum kit. There are 1,000's of options. This is just a basic sencario to get you going.

Have fun and remember, great sounding music is making happy music.


Street Talk

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