Drum Miking 101
Part 1: Single-Microphone Setups
In this series we’ll look at how to mike a drumset, starting with a single microphone and adding one each time until we arrive at a complete close-mike configuration. The idea behind the series is to help you fully understand how the placement of the microphones and their distance from the drums affects the overall sound.
You may not think a single mic can do that great a job of capturing a full drumset sound, but you’d be surprised. There are no hard-and-fast rules in drum miking. The bottom line is the final outcome. By starting with just one mic, you can really focus on the acoustic balance of your drumset. Are you getting too much hi-hat in the mix? Maybe you’re hitting it too hard. If the tone is dead and lacks sustain, you may need to look at the condition of your drumheads and adjust your tuning. My point is, don’t automatically assume that it’s a bad microphone or bad mic placement that’s preventing you from getting a good sound. It could just be a matter of addressing your touch and dynamics.
There are many options for where to place a single mic to capture an entire drumset, but we’ll focus on three positions. If you’re not able to record your drums yourself, check out the sample video we’ve posted at moderndrummer.com. As you’re watching, listen for the sonic differences between the three mic positions and how the changes in distance from the drumset affect the attack, tone, and definition. 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? Is the sound clearly defined? And are all of the drums and cymbals evenly balanced?
Position 1: Far Room Mic
Our first position is with the microphone placed 10′ in front of the drumset and pointed directly toward the center of the kit. We used a Sony C-48 large-diaphragm condenser, 4.5′ off the ground. Listen through headphones to the sound this position gets. It captures a very good representation of the overall character of the kit and is a good indicator of the tone of your drums. Do you hear a clearly defined sound? If you need super-clean, precise drum tones, this position may not be the best choice. If you’re trying to play fast blast beats, the sound from this far away from the kit can get a bit muddy. I like this position for solo work that requires a natural presentation of the instrument.
Position 2: Near Room Mic
Our second position is 5′ in front of the middle of the kit. The representation of the drumset from here is still well balanced, but now we’re hearing a little more definition. The lower frequencies are more pronounced, so we have a slightly fuller sound than with the far room position.
Low-frequency information has a hard time getting into any mic. This is because middle and high frequencies are a bit more efficient as they travel through the air. You can still get a nice balance when miking drums from a distance, but the tone thins out the farther from the kit you go.
Position 3: Mono Overhead
Our third position is directly over the drumset and centered on the batter head of the bass drum. This placement allows the microphone to “see” the entire kit. If you use a very large drumset, you may find that you need to raise the microphone in order for it to pick up all of the instruments. This position gives you a well-
defined sound that can be mixed in with other instruments fairly easily. The exception is that now the bass drum is getting a bit lost, but we’ll address that issue in a future article.
You could spend days moving a microphone to a lot of different positions in your room to discover many other options, but try using these three as a starting point. If you can’t get what you’re looking for with one of these, and you’re sure that your drums sound good and you’re playing with good balance, feel free to experiment with some alternative placements. Next month we’ll explore ways to employ stereo miking techniques at different distances, as well as a two-mic mono option. Until then!
Special thanks to Omega Recording Studios and Scotty O’Toole for helping us put this series together.