The process of miking a drum kit is fairly simple. In fact, it’s practically fool proof. However, there’s more to recording drums than chucking a few mics on a kit.
As with any instrument, you want to take some time getting each drum sounding just the way you want it. You’re dreaming if you think you’re going to turn a poor sounding drum into a big, vibrant, tone monster in post production. Make sure you have the right heads and that the heads don’t need replacing, tune the drums properly, and muffle them if you so desire. The kit needs to present a livelier version of the sound you want to end up with on the recording.
Every producer and engineer has a different approach to miking a drum kit, and this is something you’ll no doubt develop over time. The most common way to mic up a kit is the close miking technique. Here’s a quick run down of a basic close miking set-up:
2 x Overheads
1 x Bass drum mic (on resonant side)
2 x Snare mics (one on batter side, one on snare side)
3+ x Tom mics (on batter side of each tom)
1 x Hi-Hat mic*
The overhead mics need to be condenser microphones, and are generally placed above or just behind the drummer at a height of six feet, and pointing down towards the cymbals. The overheads pick up the cymbals, but they also provide a balanced stereo image of the whole kit. Large or small diaphragm condensers can be used, although they will provide drastically different sounds. Matched stereo pairs of microphones are available and recommended.
The bass drum mic is usually a dynamic mic specifically designed for bass drum frequencies, such as a Shure Beta 52a, AKG D112, or Sennheiser E902. However, a Shure SM57 can also do a good job. This mic should be placed inside the bass drum, about 3 inches from the batter skin (where the beater hits), and angled slightly – pointing away from the direction of the floor tom.
The snare can be miked on the batter side only, but I have always found that another mic needs to be placed underneath the drum to get a nice crisp snare sound. A quick glance at the title image should give you an indication of how the batter side mic should be placed; very close to the skin (but not touching it), and pointing towards the centre of the drum (so angled slightly downwards). Having the bottom of the mic (where the cable goes in) facing the hi-hats will limit the amount of bleed into the mic. Another microphone should be placed under the drum, pointing upwards towards the snare wire at a slight angle. I find that 3 inches is a good distance. Remember another important thing is that the mic needs to be out of the drummers way.
The tom mics should be placed exactly the same way as the snare top mic in relation to its proximity and angle. The 12 o’clock position on the tom is the best place to keep the mic out of the way.
*A hi-hat mic can also be used, and I always use a hi-hat mic, as I like to be able to position and control the hi-hats when mixing. However, it’s not essential to mic up the hi-hats as they are picked up pretty well by the overheads and by the bleed into other mics. A small diaphragm condenser is best on hi-hats. A mic of this type will retain the crisp hi-end and a nice amount of the brassy body. Position the mic about 3 inches away from the top hi-hat, pointing away from the snare. You will get a nice crisp, hissy sound by miking the edge of the cymbal, whereas a mic placed closer to the centre of the cymbal produces a more metallic sound, emphasising the hit of the stick.
What do I use?
To assist you in selecting the right types of microphones, here’s what I use:
AKG C451B/Rode NT5
AKG D112/Shure Beta 52a inside, or very close to the resonant skin
Beyer Dynamic M88TG on beater
Shure SM57/Beta 56a on top
Shure SM57 or AKG C451B/Rode NT5 on bottom
Shure Beta56a/Sennheiser MD421
Shure KSM109/Shure KSM137
Drum kit microphone sets are available from several microphone manufacturers, but be vigilant as they do not always include all the microphones you’ll need.
A tip for mixing: remember to pan the overhead mics hard left and hard right respectively; Although it is a matter of taste, most snare and bass drum recordings will be panned dead centre to tie the song together.