Electronic Insights

Drum Miking 101

Part 3: Three-Mic Setups

by John Emerich

So far in this series we’ve looked at mixing a drumset with one and two microphones. Now we’ll add a third. Three microphones are ideal for most drumset work. Even when I’m employing multiple mics, I find myself getting most of the sound from just three, usually a stereo pair over the drums and a single one on the bass drum. The reason is simple enough: The stereo overheads are the closest thing to the drummer’s ears in terms of capturing the natural balance of the kit. If something sounds too loud in the overheads, you may want to look at the instruments you’ve chosen and, more important, your playing. The bass drum mic just helps fill out the low frequencies.

As you experiment with and listen back to the sounds captured from the examples discussed here, key in on the stereo field (the spread from left to right) and the detail of the drums and cymbals. Ask yourself a few questions: Do I get a clear representation of the set and a good overall tone? Do I hear the attack of each instrument, and is the sound clearly defined? Are all of the drums and cymbals balanced?

Position 1: Stereo Overheads and a Bass Drum Mic

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There are many different positioning options for stereo overhead drum microphones. I’m utilizing the ORTF layout, which places the mic capsules 17 cm apart and at a 110-degree angle. The mics are placed 6′ off the ground and with a slight clockwise twist to keep the snare and bass drum in the center of the stereo mix.

Pay attention to what happens when you bring in the bass drum mic. The playing that we’ve posted at moderndrummer.com starts with just the overheads. Adding the bass drum mic fills out the low frequencies that are missing in the overheads because of the distance between them and the drum.

Position 2: Glyn Johns Technique

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Our second position was made popular by famed engineer/producer Glyn Johns (Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Rolling Stones). Johns is credited with this microphone configuration, which features a unique way of getting a very wide stereo field. Using two condenser mics, place one directly over the middle of the snare. I set ours about 6′ off the ground. The second mic is positioned on the floor tom side, with the diaphragm set at a height just above the rim of the drum.

To make sure that the snare remains in the center of the stereo field, pinch one end of a string at the center of the drum and extend the other end straight up to the first microphone. Then pinch the string at the spot where it meets the diaphragm of the mic. Keep pinching at those places on the string, and move the end that was touching the overhead mic to the spot above and beyond the floor tom rim. Place the second mic there, and make sure that the diaphragm is facing the center of the snare.

On your mixing board or in your recording software, pan the mic over the snare all the way to the left, and pan the one near the floor tom to the right. (Reverse the panning if you want your mix to sound like it’s from the audience perspective.) Add a bass drum microphone, and you have your three-mic setup. I like the Glyn Johns technique because it gives a very wide and well-defined stereo picture. It also puts a microphone closer to the floor tom, which helps fill out the low frequencies.

Position 3: All-Mono Configuration

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The last three-mic setup is a simple mono approach. There’s nothing wrong with recording drums in mono. In fact, some of the best-selling albums of all time are in mono. I recommend using a three-mic mono setup when you want to bring out a little more detail in the snare but don’t want or have the capability to add another microphone. Mono drums can still be moved around in the stereo field, and this setup is a very useful approach for recording jazz and brush playing.

Place one mic over the center of the set at about 6′ off the ground. The second mic goes on the bass drum, either in front or aimed at the beater impact point on the batter head. The third mic is placed on the snare, positioned just a bit higher than the rim and looking straight across the head.

Remember that experimenting with different mic placements is the key. Use your ears and ask yourself: Am I happy with the sound? If so, great! If not, then try one of the other positions or adjust the placement of the mics until you get the sound you’re after.

Next month we’ll move on to a setup using four microphones.