Electronic Insights

Drum Miking 101

Part 2: Two-Microphone Setups

by John Emerich

Last month we began this series by exploring three different ways to record a drumset with a single microphone. The distance between the mic and the drumset was our focus. This month we’re adding a second microphone. We’ll explore the different sounds you get by placing a stereo mic in different locations, and we’ll work with two mono mics as well. Let’s get started.

A simple way to capture a stereo (i.e., two- channel) image of the drumset is with a stereo microphone, which has two capsules, one for left and one for right, housed within a single case. We’ll begin by placing the stereo microphone in the same positions as the mono mic in last month’s article.

If you don’t have a stereo mic, you can use a matched pair of mono mics, mounted with a stereo bar on a single stand. (Mics with a cardioid polar pattern are recommended.) The stereo bar allows you to keep the microphones at a consistent distance from one another as you explore different placements. For this series I’m using a Violet Flamingo Stereo mic with the capsules positioned according to the ORTF technique. ORTF stands for “Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française,” and this microphone technique was started
in the 1960s by audio engineers in France. If you want to mimic the method using two mono cardioid mics, space the capsules 17 centimeters apart, at a 110-degree angle.

As you record and listen back to your drums using the different two-mic setups to follow, ask yourself the following questions: Do I get a clear representation of the drumset 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? Do I hear a clearly defined stereo field—in other words, are the instruments of the kit spreading evenly and naturally from left to right?

Position 1: Far Front

To begin, place your two microphones (or your stereo mic) 4.5′ off the ground and 10′ in front of the kit, and aim them at the center of the kit. This position gives you a very good representation of the overall sound of the drumset in the room, plus a slight representation of the stereo field. As with the mono microphone in this position, you get a nice natural sound, but it lacks a bit of punch and definition. If you’re trying to play fast blast beats, this placement will not provide enough definition. I prefer it for solo work that requires a natural presentation of the instrument, such as recording concert snare drum études for college auditions.

Position 2: Near Front

For the second position, move the two mics to 5′ in front of the kit. The representation of the set from here is well balanced, and you should hear a wider stereo field. There should also be a bit more definition, and the low frequencies will be more pronounced than they were with the mics 10′ from the kit. With any microphone, low-frequency information will be more present as the instrument is closer to the mic; this is called the proximity effect. The tone thins out as you increase the distance. You could use some light compression and EQ to boost the lower frequencies when miking instruments from farther away. But, for now, keep the signal dry so you can really learn the differences in tone between position 1 and 2.

Position 3: Overhead and Centered Over Bass Drum Batter Head

This position allows the two microphones to “see” the entire drumset. Looking down on the kit, turn the mics clockwise a bit so that the bass drum and snare are close to the center point between the mics. (In the case of a stereo mic, the snare and kick should line up as close to the center of the mic body as possible). Turning the mics this way places the bass drum and snare in the center of the stereo field. (See the Technology Corner column on overhead placement in the March 2013 issue for more info.)

If your drumset is larger, you might need to raise the microphones so that all of the instruments are captured. In the overhead position, the two mics will give you a well-defined sound that can be mixed with other instruments fairly easily. The stereo field is wide too. The only downside to this position is that the bass drum can get lost in the mix, depending on the style of music. (You can address that problem by adding a third mic on the kick, which we’ll cover in the next installment.)

The overhead setup is also an excellent position for percussion recording. Marimba, xylophone, and vibraphone solos sound great when captured with a pair of overheads in the ORTF configuration. Just make sure you don’t get the mics too close to the instrument.

Position 4: Mono Overhead and Bass Drum

The previous three positions were designed to provide varying degrees of stereo spread and natural frequency response. Our final placement, which includes two variations, is a mono setup designed to provide an accurate representation of the drumset.

Start with a single overhead mic (we’re using a Sony C-48) placed in the center of the set at a height of about 6′, looking straight down toward the batter side of the bass drum. That microphone will stay in place while we try two different placements on the bass drum.

The first bass drum mic placement is slightly off center and .5″ from the front head. (We’re using a Milab BDM-01 mic.) This position produces a full, round tone. The second position moves the microphone to the batter head; place it near the spot where the beater makes contact with the head, and angle it 45 degrees. Miking the batter side gives you more attack from the bass drum. Either placement will work well with your mono overhead. It just depends on whether you want a rounder tone (front position) or a cleaner point (batter position).

The four positions we’ve covered here are some of the more common setups for recording drums with two microphones. Which one works best for you will depend on the style of music you’re playing and the type of sound you’re looking to achieve. Experimenting is the key. In the next article, we’ll add a third mic to our setup.

Special thanks to Omega Recording Studios and Scotty O’Toole for helping us put this series together.