A Drum set isn’t one instrument, but a collection of different instruments which you need to record differently.
Microphone signals can create a massive battle in the mix, or when used correctly, can help you tremendously.
You need that fat drum sound in most productions.
So be acquiring these essential skills, you will be a step ahead.
To know how to record drums, you need to see how the pros do it!
The pros will have a nice sounding room with excellent acoustics; they will have professional gear and years of experience.
You don’t need a fancy professional studio (would be great, though).
You can use the same principles in a home studio and get an excellent recording going.
So please don’t go crazy with all of the drum microphone types that will be covered in this guide.
You can use all of the techniques and principles in any situation.
Let’s dive right in…
Step 1. Make Sure Your Drummer is More Than Acceptable
Don’t ever try to start recording with a “fix it in the mix” attitude.
You will end up with an endless job of trying to correct and make your drum sound acceptable.
So before you even place a microphone, make sure your drum set is in order!
Just like recording guitars, you will need to tune it before recording.
Try the drum set with different sticks and maybe in another room.
Maybe even changing the drummer will give you the sound that you need. (Not if it’s Questlove)
Record the best signal possible.
Step 2. Place the Overheads Higher for More Room-Sound
Maybe the most important microphones are the overhead mics.
Try two or even more microphones that hang above the drum kit.
For specific styles or when you don’t need more, you can even make use of just one well-placed mic.
For overheads, you will usually choose condenser microphones.
You can easily place these mics in various basic setups.
But the most used one is the A/B setup.
The A/B setup are two mics that are placed at the same height and placed away from each other so that you can hear the drum kit from left to right; this will be at a 90-degree angle.
The overheads are not only to record the cymbals, but also different parts of the drum.
The art of placing the overheads: is to place the overheads just enough until you get a great drum sound with only these mics.
You must pay attention to the different parts and aspects of the drum and the stereo image.
The bass drum and snare should be set in the middle of the mix.
So make sure your microphones are set with this in mind.
Even the height of the overheads can be a crucial placement.
A lower placed setup can have a more direct sound while a higher placed one picks up more tone of the room.
If your room doesn’t add anything usefull to your recording?
Then lower your microphones.
Step 3. Experiment with the Placement of the Bass-Drum Microphone(s)
Minimal Placement Differences Often Mean Considerable Differences in Sound. Pay Attention to the Angle!
To get a fat kick drum recording may be hard with only the overhead signal.
That’s why the bass drum/kick always gets its own specially designed mic.
These specially designed mics are dynamic microphones that can withstand a significant amount of pressure.
But the placing of these dynamic-mics are equally important.
If there is a hole in the front sheet of the kick drum, you can choose to place in partially or all the way in.
Try to experiment with how far you stick it in and notice the different tonal differences of the recorded signal.
A rule of thumb: Try to place the bass drum microphone with an angle because there could be to much air and pressure blown into the membrane of the microphone.
Are you looking for a less “kicky sound” but an enhanced low?
Try to place the mic with a little distance from the sheet.
Step 4. The Snaredrum
The mic used on the snare are somewhat odd-looking or exotic dynamic microphones.
But the way they are used is the same as you already are familiar with.
Changing the position of the mic can have a big impact on the signal.
A rule of thumb: Try to let the snare mic aim for the middle of the sheet, the place of impact.
Closer to the rim gives you more high tones, while closer to the middle will give you the impact hit sound.
Try to get the right balance of these two while aiming for your favorite sound.
Step 5. The Bottom of The Snare-Drum
A Good Starting Point is, to Place the Bottom Microphone at an Angle of 90 Degrees with Respect to the Upper Microphone.
If you don’t have the channels or mics, you can do without this. (I’m talking about miking below the snare)
But if you want a professional production, recording the bottom of the snare can’t be left out.
On the bottom of the snare, you can find the tonal character that defines itself when comparing it to other toms.
You can easily use a dynamic for recording the bottom part, but you will have to put some effort in the placing.
The best way to place the bottom mic is on an angle of 90 degrees from the top mic.
This will eliminate most phase problems, and both mice can pick up the best signal possible.
Step 6. Toms and Floor toms: Avoid Phase Issues
Not only the placement on the drum, but also the direction with respect to other microphones are Important.
With the room and floor toms you can use the same technique as with the snare-drums.
But recording the bottom of toms isn’t something people usually do.
Go ahead with the minimal changes in mic placing.
Closer to the rim/edge or not?
Do this until you get the best sound.
Always keep attention to the placement of the other mics.
This is to ensure you get the least problems with the phase.
To get the least problems, try to place the snare, tom, and overheads facing the same way (not facing each other).
Step 7. Extra Microphones: Necessary or Not?
You Can Add Microphones Endlessly, But Consider Whether it is Necessary.
You got the basic microphone placement for drums down.
With these techniques, you should get a good drum sound while recording.
Start with the overheads and add the other miked part slowly.
Not yet convinced, no matter how much you re-position the mics?
You can add as many mics and setups you want, but you should always keep in mind that phase can become a problem.
Bleed and Phase
“If you want to put a mic in front of every part of your drum, you will always experience “bleed” and “crosstalk”.
The good news is: It doesn’t have to be a bad thing!
How the snare drum sound that is picked up by a microphone, “which is actually meant for the bass drum“ can actually sound great in the mix.
And indeed overheads pick up more than the sound of the cymbals, take advantage of this!
You should pay attention to the behavior of all the different sound sources, especially the timing and the way they are picked up by the mics you have set-up.
If a particular sound from a microphone (from a different angle) enters earlier, or later than the other, both signals can blend and form the so-called “phasing problem”.
Always pay attention that whenever you add a recorded signal to the mix, it actually adds something to the mix.
You might lose frequencies.
When losing frequencies, you can use a phase-switch (polarity) or better yet: Change the placement of your mic so that it doesn’t conflict with the other mics.
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