Recording Drumsets and Miking

Arts & EntertainmentBooks & Music

  • Author Marquis Van De Mark
  • Published February 28, 2010
  • Word count 1,503

If you have ever listened to great recording's of drummers such as Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa the drums sound big and bold but when you try to record your own drums they seem to sound like cardboard boxes don't get frustrated let's look at good miking techniques.

The room is key, the way the room sounds and how reflective the sound bounces around the room will give your drums the big sound your looking for. If your limited and have your portable recording studio in your bedroom that's all carpeted get a couple pieces of plywood and lay a couple pieces leaned up against the wall. This will allow for th sound to reflect and bounce also lay a piece of plywood on the floor directly in front of the kick drum.

You could record your drums in the garage or a different room in your house that is more open in sound, if you have a studio-in-a-box you can carry it to a room that gives you the reflective sound.

Record your drums in a nice sounding room and then place a microphone just outside the door to catch additional sounds for that ambient sound, when mixing you can add tracks and give it depth and feel.

When miking the kick drum (Bass drum) the mic of choice is a dynamic mic some diaphragm dynamic mics are designed for specifically recording Bass drums or kicks.

If you want to tone down the boominess of the bass drum some people will place a pillow or blanket inside the ass drum to make the tone less boomy, they will place a pillow touching the back of the inside drum head.

Miking near the insidehead; You can mic the drum now by removing the drum head or have a hole cut in the head you can place the mic inside the head and just 2 to 3 inches away from the head itself and off center by 3 inches this gives the kick drum a sharp attack.

Miking halfway inside the drum; by placing the mic in the center of the drum this provides for less of an attack and more of the body of the sound.

Near the outside head; If you have both heads on the drum, you can place the mic a few inches from the outside head. If you want a more open, boomy sound (and you have the drum's pitch set fairly high), point the mic directly at the center of the head. If you want less boom, offset the mic a little and point it about two-thirds of the way toward the center.

The kick drum responds quite well to a compressor when tracking. For the most part, you can get by with settings that allow the initial attack to get through and that tame the boom a little. A sample setting looks like this: Threshold: -6dB Ratio: Between 4:1 and 6:1 Attack: Between 40 ms and 50 ms Release: Between 200 ms and 300 ms Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don't need much added gain.

Snare drum

The snare drum is probably the most important drum in popular music. The bass guitar can cover the kick drum's rhythm, and the rest of the drums aren't part of the main groove. A good, punchy snare drum can make a track, whereas a weak, thin one can eliminate the drive that most popular music needs.

Because the snare drum is located so close to the other drums, especially the hi-hats, a cardioid pattern mic is a must. The most common mic for a snare drum is the trusty Shure SM57. The mic is generally placed between the hi-hats and the small tom-tom about 1 or 2 inches from the snare drum head (see Figure 2). Point the diaphragm directly at the head. You may need to make some minor adjustments to eliminate any bleed from the hi-hats. This position gives you a nice punchy sound.

Adding compression to the snare drum is crucial if you want a tight, punchy sound. There are a lot of ways to go with the snare. The following settings are common and versatile: Threshold: -4dB Ratio: Between 4:1 and 6:1 Attack: Between 5 ms and 10 ms Release: Between 125 ms and 175 ms Gain: Adjust so that the output level matches the input level. You don't need much added gain.

Tom-toms

The tom-toms sound best when using a dynamic mic. For the mounted toms (the ones above the kick drum), you can use one or two mics. If you use one mic, place it between the two drums about 4 to 6 inches away from the heads (Figure 3 shows this placement option). If you use two mics, place one above each drum about 1 to 3 inches above the head.

Floor toms are miked the same way as the mounted tom-toms:

  • Place a single mic a couple of inches away from the head near the rim.

  • If you have more than one floor tom, you can place one mic between them or mic them individually.

If you want to apply compression to the tom-toms, you can start with the settings that for the snare drum in the preceding section.

Hi-hats

The hi-hats are generally part of the main groove and, as such, you want to spend time getting a good sound. You'll probably have problems with a few other mics on the drumset picking up the hi-hats, particularly the snare drum mic and overhead mics. Some people don't bother miking the hi-hats for this reason.

Hi-hats often sound too trashy through the snare drum mic. If you mic hi-hats, make sure that the snare drum mic is picking up as little of the hi-hats as possible by placing it properly and/or using a noise gate (a dynamic processor use to filter unwanted noise).

You can use either a dynamic mic or, better yet, a small diaphragm condenser mic for the hi-hats. The dynamic mic gives you a trashier sound and the small diaphragm condenser mic produces a bright sound. You can work with either by adjusting the EQ. Try adding just a little bit (4dB or so) of a shelf EQ set at 10 kHz to add just a little sheen to the hi-hats.

Place the mic about 3 to 4 inches above the hi-hats and point it down. The exact placement of the mic is less important than the placement of the other instrument mics because of the hi-hats' tone. Just make sure your mic isn't so close that you hit it.

Compression isn't usually necessary when tracking the hi-hats unless you have a drummer whose volume level is inconsistent. In this case, try using the same snare drum settings.

Cymbals

You want to know one secret to the huge drum sound of Led Zeppelin's drummer, John Bonham? Finesse. He understood that the drums sound louder and bigger in a mix if the cymbals are quieter in comparison. So he played his cymbals softly and hit the drums pretty hard. This allowed the engineer to raise up the levels of the drums without having the cymbals drown everything else out. Absolutely brilliant.

Because the drums bleeding into the overhead mics is inevitable and the overhead mics are responsible for providing much of the drums' presence in a mix, playing the cymbals softly allows you to get more of the drums in these mics. This helps the drums sound bigger.

Ask (no, demand) that your drummer play the cymbals quieter. Also use smaller cymbals with a fast attack and a short decay. Doing these things creates a better balance between the drums and cymbals and makes the drums stand out more in comparison.

Small diaphragm condenser mics capture the cymbals' high frequencies well. You can mic the cymbals by placing mics about 6 inches above each cymbal or by using overhead mics set 1 to 3 feet above the cymbals.

The whole kit

Most of the time, you want to have at least one (but preferably two) ambient mics on the drums if for no other reason than to pick up the cymbals. These (assuming you use two mics) are called overhead mics and, as the name implies, they are placed above the drumset. The most common types of mics to use for overheads are large and small diaphragm condenser mics because they pick up the high frequencies in the cymbals and give the drumset's sound a nice sheen (brightness). You also may want to try a pair of ribbon mics to pick up a nice, sweet sound on the overheads.

To mic the drumset with overhead mics, you can use either the X-Y coincident technique or spaced stereo pairs. Place them 1 to 2 feet above the cymbals, just forward of the drummer's head. Place X-Y mics in the center and set up spaced stereo pairs so that they follow the 3:1 rule (the mics should be set up 3 to 6 feet apart if they are 1 to 2 feet above the cymbals). This counters any phase problems. Point the mic down toward the drums and you're ready to record. Figure 4 shows both of these set-ups.

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