Miking Up The Drum Kit

The first thing to consider is if the drum kit is not properly tuned and damped, if the heads are really battered and the kit not maintained then no matter how you mic it up, you will never get a great sound!

One thing that can be done though is to damp ringing drums. Quite often toms and sometimes the snare, ring when hit and it is usually preferable to damp this down before feeding them through the PA. If the drums do not have dampers built in this can easily be done by the time honoured method of taping a small wad of tissue paper, or cloth, near the edge of the skin (the head) with some gaffa tape. Sometimes just a layer or two of gaffa tape will do on its own.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking a drum kit needs to have a separate mic for everything.

Often only two or three mics are needed, especially in the smaller venues. Here the drum mics are used just to bring the sound forward a bit, add some weight to the kik drum and give a bit overall sparkle and definition. One of these is a kick drum mic and the other a single condenser overhead mic.

The Kick drum Mic

This will generally be a large diaphragm type particularly suited for bass and kick drum. the best results usually come from mounting the mic within the body of the drum, through a hole in the front skin if fitted. It should be a little off centre to reduce unwanted resonances and generally aimed at where the beater strikes the skin. Moving it closer gives a harder sound with more emphasis on the beater and moving it away a little makes it warmer and and a bit more bass in the sound.

The Overhead Mic

When used for most of the kit it is usually placed somewhere above and slightly forward of the drummers head, pointing downward. The idea being to catch a similar balance to what the drummer hears. Most reasonable condenser mics can be used here, usually the small diaphragm variety. The stand(s) may need to be placed near the rear of the kit for this. Often the most convenient place is near the floor tom.

I have used a high quality cardiod lavalier style mic here in the past (a Sony Pro ECM66B). These are easy to suspend where you want them and can be almost invisible. Don't use cheap omnidirectional lavalier style mics though, apart from the fact they will feedback all over the place, they won't handle the sound levels either... 

An alternative is to use two overheads.

These either close together and angled for stereo or as a spaced pair. Again in the same position as decribed for a single mic but angled to catch a reasonable stereo representation of the kit. Don't worry about traditional stereo mic angles here, it is more about even coverage of the drum kit.

Using a spaced pair can give a bit more width but care must then be taken to make sure that both mics are at an equal distance from the all important snare drum. Failure to do so can seriously compromise the snare drum sound due to phase cancellations.

If you have most of the drums close miked then the overheads are then used mainly for cymbals, so much of the low end can (should) be cut completely. The mics are then placed accordingly more above the cymbals and the stands placed at the front of the kit.

The Snare Mic

In practice a mic is generally used on the snare as well, if only to be able to apply a touch of reverb and/or to give it more 'snap'. A dynamic mic is commonly used here, the likely of getting hit along with the rigours on the road, makes condensers less popular here than in the studio, although don't let me put you off if you want to use one. In either case, angle the mic down over the edge of the drum and aim it somewhere between the edge of the skin and the middle.

The angle will be preferably be determined by the sound balance required, an adjustment here can be better than EQ on the desk. Closer to the edge ends to sound brighter, emphasises the harmonics and can sometimes give more sound from the actual snare. Toward the centre captures more of the body of the sound with more depth.

Sometimes there will be only one place to feed the mic in to avoid it being hit and it will not be possible to choose an ideal angle, compact modern drum mics are handy here, but otherwise just get it close to the skin without touching it. The tonal balance may then have to rely more on the desk EQ than othewise.

The Hi-hat Mic

If the hi-hat is not being captured well enough, then a mic, often a condenser type, can be placed just beyond the edge of the hi-hat where the two halves meet. this will normally angled down toward that point to make the most of its rear rejection to avoid picking up to much of any cymbal nearby. Pointing down at an angle tends to produce a better sound as well.

Separate mics on each of the toms

This is usually best accomplished with dynamic mics designed to clip onto the edge of the drum, thereby saving the trouble of lots of stands. These mics are available for very reasonable cost and even quite cheap ones seem to do a fine job. Otherwise any fairly reasonable dynamic mic can be used here. The one thing worth checking when choosing such mics is their rejection of sound to the rear as you don't want too much cymbal sound to be picked up. Position them in a similar way as described for the snare, bearing in mind where the drum sticks or wobbling cymbals might hit.

Another effective solution on toms is the use of figure-of-eights.
This is a technique not often seen nowadays and is perhaps worth reviving, The idea is to place the mic directly between two toms, just behind the point where the two drums meet. Obviously this needs to be far enough back to avoid being hit by the drummer but close enough to capture the sound of both toms equally.

The great advantage of this is:

  • only one mic is required for two drums.
  • Cymbals are usually placed above this point also and the mic has almost perfect rejection here in its pick-up pattern.
  • The same goes for its rejection of the kik drum.

Even on larger stages and venues, keeping things simple tends to solve a lot of operational problems.

Only too often have I seen the long-winded set up of a drum kit with everything miked individually, including cymbals. Everything is then put through a gate and often a compressor and the engineer spends an inordinate amount of time trying to get smooth gating on everything, often messing around trying to prevent the natural snare rattle that occurs every time there is a kik or tom hit.

A drumkit is like a living, breathing thing.

They rattle and shake in their natural form and it is all part of their character and excitement. Too much messing can easily knock a lot of the life and expression out of them, which is then compensated for by applying effects. If you don't have everything close miked, these other sounds are less intrusive and provide a sense of colour in the backgound instead.

Timing

Something not often considered when close miking everything is the time delay between the drums and the drummers ears! This, to an extent, affects the timing of the drums (or maybe best described as micro-timing).

In an acoustic environment the drummer hears the sound directly from the drums and the further away that drum is the longer the sound takes to reach the drummer. As all good drummers know, tiny shifts from the timing can have a surprisingly noticeable effect and is something widely used to shift the feel of a track, holding it back, or pushing it ahead.

The drummer hears the beats from the monitors at a slightly different time than the actual acoustic sound. Now this may seem so little that it does not matter, but does and not just the milliseconds in timing but also phase and other problems.

This is often the reason why some drummers insist on very loud monitors, which, of course leads to more problems due to monitor spill!

If the drummer is using in ear monitoring it makes even more sense to get a balanced sound based on where the drummer is hearing it, that, after all, is the ultimate reference and where drummers balance their own sound from.

Much of this is true when recording also, and I have noted that when the simpler techniques are used the drummer is often very enthusiastic about the sound.

As for actual microphone recommendations I will leave that to another article...

Share |