Electronic Insights

Drum Miking 101

Part 4: Four Microphones

by John Emerich

At this point in the series, you should have a good idea of how microphone placement affects the sound of your drums. A closer distance between the mics and the drums will give you a bit more definition and clarity. But be careful that you don’t get too close with the main overhead microphones, because you’ll start missing instruments. For this article we will put up four microphones. We’re demonstrating just one option to get you going. The idea of adding mics should be to get a bit more detail in the sound.

In this example I’m using a Violet Flamingo Stereo overhead microphone, a Milab BDM-01 on the front of the bass drum, and a Violet Flamingo Junior on the snare, with just enough of the snare-mic signal to add a bit of clarity. This is very useful when recording brush playing in a jazz style. The audio in the accompanying video, which is posted to moderndrummer.com, has no additional processing; it’s just microphones, via preamps, directly to Pro Tools.

The bottom line in recording drums is the placement and type of microphones that you choose. Here, the Violet stereo model is the main source of the sound, because it’s the closest to your ears in terms of placement. That means it will provide the most honest representation of your playing. Remember that what we’re looking for is a natural sound. If something is jumping out in the mix, it may be that you need to evaluate what you’re doing or maybe even change out a piece of the drumset, depending on how it’s sounding in the room.

The bass drum mic is used to add a bit of definition and help enhance the lower frequencies. When monitoring the overheads with the bass drum mic added, listen for a full-frequency response. If there’s too much low frequency, or if the bass drum is punching through a little too much, reduce the level on that microphone. If you hear a bit of weirdness in the sound, you might have a phase issue. We’ll cover more on phasing in a future article, but for now if you’re not hearing a natural representation of the drumset, try raising or lowering the overheads or moving the bass drum mic to the batter side or to a different spot on the front head.

There are many opinions on how to mike the snare. A lot of people place the mic really close to the top head, just inside the rim. That’s great if you want a detailed recording of that one spot of the head, but backing off the mic a bit will give you a better representation of the drum. This will also allow you to capture more of the snares themselves. Sometimes placing the mic really close to the head results in a sound that’s more like that of a shallow timbale. A lot of engineers remedy this by adding a mic on the bottom side of the snare. For our four-channel setup, we have only one mic to work with to get a natural representation of the snare.

The music you play and your personal taste will dictate what you need to achieve. Don’t be afraid to move the mic around a bit. For example, I really like to record snares from the side, with the microphone placed 3″ from the shell. In this example I moved the mic more toward the top rim, because I’m using brushes and I needed a bit more detail for the brush sweeps.

The other mic positions we talked about last month can also work. For example, you might want to try the Glyn Johns (top/side) setup with the additional snare mic. You may also want to try backing the overheads out to the front of the kit a bit. This can add some room resonance to the sound. In the end, you need to trust your ears. There’s no right or wrong way to use your four microphones. Once you find a sound that you’re happy with, press the record button and play your drums.

In the next article we’ll jump into a fully miked kit.