by Donny Gruendler
In the first four installments of this series we discussed very broad ideas for achieving stylistically appropriate drum sounds, from pop-rock to traditional jazz. Each setup employed different drums, head selections, and tunings, and we used miking techniques that ranged from spot mics on each drumkit voice to just two overheads and a bass drum mic. In this final article we’ll add sonic depth and personality to those previously discussed tones with some strategically placed room mics.
In order to capture the drums as they sound in real life, many engineers use a mono room mic. This simple and effective texture is achieved by employing a single large-diaphragm condenser microphone in order to capture the entire frequency range of the drumkit. Place it, with the capsule facing forward, approximately 6′ in front of the kit. For a direct, punchy tone that focuses mostly on the drums, position the mic no higher than 4.5′ to 5′.
By raising the mic, you can achieve an airier room tone with more cymbal wash and less kick and snare drum attack.
If you’re lacking space or depth with the mono room sound, or if you’d like to apply some extreme panning to your final mix, try placing two bidirectional large-diaphragm condensers in front of the kit to form a stereo Blumlein pair. One of the mics should be placed upside down, directly over the other mic, with its capsule facing 45 degrees to the right. The bottom mic should be turned so that the capsule faces 45 degrees to the left. The top mic will pick up the front-left and back-right sounds of the room, while the bottom mic will capture the front-right and back-left.
If you don’t own two identical mics, you can enlist a single X/Y stereo mic. A stereo mic has two separate capsules placed within one housing. It allows for easy transport and placement but may have a smaller stereo image.
In order to capture a wide slap effect, try placing a spaced pair of small-diaphragm condensers in the opposing corners of your room, with the mics facing away from the kit. The mics should be positioned 5′ to 8′ high, with the capsules placed 6″ from a hard surface, preferably a gypsum, concrete, or brick wall.
To obtain more wash and less of the slap effect, raise the condensers into the far corners of the room. The capsules should be placed 2′ to 3′ from where the back wall meets the side wall and ceiling. Point the mics directly at the junction of the three surfaces.
In order to create lo-fi loop textures, many producers like to place a harmonica mic directly above the kit, with the capsule pointing at the bass drum beater. To avoid phasing issues, you shouldn’t use this microphone in conjunction with normal overheads. Rather, treat its signal as an audio effect to be used in a particular section of a song. To really dirty up the sound this mic captures, apply a harmonic distortion plug-in, such as Avid’s Lo-Fi or SansAmp PSA-1.
Continue to Experiment
We’ve discussed some very specific room-miking techniques in this article. Think of them as a starting point for your own sessions. Each approach will continue to be a work in progress and will take time to fully master. And before you can use any of these methods in an actual session, you’ll have to spend some time getting to know the sound and idiosyncrasies of your room. I suggest that you concentrate on one of the room-mic placements at a time.
For additional insight, be sure to check out the complete article in the November 2013 issue of Modern Drummer.
Donny Gruendler is the director of performance programs at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. He has performed with DJ Logic, Rock Holmstrom, John Medeski, and Rhett Frazier Inc. For more info, visit donnygruendler.com.