Drum Recording

The drum set is one of the most difficult instruments to record since it's a combination of multiple instruments, requiring many microphones and channels. Spill between microphones can cause difficulties when mixing, so it is important to learn how to select and position your microphones correctly.

Microphones

Microphones operate by converting the sound hitting a diaphragm into an electrical signal. There are several different types of microphones, each suited to different applications. The three main types of microphones used to record drums are dynamic mics, condenser mics and ribbon mics.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones have a coil attached to the diaphragm, which is suspended inside a magnet. Sound hitting the diaphragm causes the coil inside the magnet to vibrate, creating an electrical signal.

The simple construction of dynamic microphones makes them quite robust. They have a weak frequency response above 10 kHz because of the heavy diaphragm and have a resonant frequency peak in the 1 - 4 kHz range. Dynamic microphones are typically used to mike drums since they can handle large volumes and naturally attenuate high frequencies, which reduces spill from nearby cymbals.

Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones have a fixed back plate and a moving front plate, which acts as the diaphragm. These plates are held very close together to create a capacitor. When the diaphragm vibrates, the distance between the charged plates varies, creating an electrical signal. Condenser mics require phantom power (or a battery or external power) to amplify the small signal produced by the capacitor.

Condenser mics have an excellent high and low end frequency response and usually possess a resonant frequency in the 8 - 12 kHz range. Their wide frequency response means they're suited to recording both cymbals and drums. Condenser mics are used for overheads, room mics, cymbal mics and even drum mics.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones use a thin piece of aluminium foil as a diaphragm, suspended between two magnets. The vibration of the aluminium ribbon in the magnetic field produces an electrical signal. Since the aluminium ribbon is so light, ribbon mics have quite a flat frequency response extending to high frequencies. Its delicate design makes it quite a fragile and expensive microphone. Ribbon mics are sometimes used as room mics, overheads or to mike the outside of the bass drum.

Drum Microphone Placement

Recording drums requires an extensive microphone set up. Common drum mic applications and placements are described below. Ideally all these microphones should be used together, although good results can be achieved with fewer mics. The microphone applications are presented in order of importance so that you can prioritize the use of your microphones.

Overhead microphones

Overhead microphones are used to record the cymbals and capture an ambient stereo sound of the entire drum set. Overhead microphones are usually condenser microphones, but ribbon mics are sometimes used.

Overheads can be positioned closer or further from the drum set, depending on how much ambient room reverberation you want to record. If the room doesn't sound very good, place the overheads closer to the drum kit.

Two overhead microphones are used to record a stereo image of the drums. There are two main ways to setup drum overheads:

Parrallel Overhead Microphones

Position the overheads about twelve to sixteen inches above the cymbals on each side of the drum kit. This technique captures more of the cymbals.

Position the overheads at the same distance from the snare drum as each other and make sure the distance between the microphone and the cymbals is the same for each overhead. This will create a balanced stereo recording, with the snare drum in the center of the mix and the cymbals equal in volume. Avoid positioning the overheads over the edge of a cymbal, since this results in a swishing sound caused by the cymbal swinging closer and further from the microphone after it is struck.

ORTF Overhead Microphones

Place the mics above the drum kit next to each other in the centre. Position them about 7 inches apart at a 110 degree angle to each other, pointing at opposite sides of the drum set. This emulates human ear spacing to create a stereo image of the drums. This captures the overall sound of the drum kit.

Popular overhead microphones are the AKG C 414, Neumann U 87, AKG C 12, Shure SM81, AKG C 451, Royer R-121 and the Royer SF-12.

Bass Drum Microphones

Bass drums are usually usually miked with large diaphragm dynamic microphones that can handle large sound pressure levels. The kick drum should have a hole cut in the front head for a microphone to be inserted or the front head can be taken off.

Place the microphone just inside the hole in the front head if it has one, or a few inches inside the bass drum if there is no front head. Point the microphone towards the batter head of the bass drum. To capture the clicky high-frequency attack, point the microphone towards where the beater strikes the head. For less attack, point the microphone away from the beater.

If there is no hole in the bass drum place the mic a few inches from the front head, off-center and place a small condenser microphone on the batter side to capture the attack of the beater.

To pick up the low frequency fundamental of the bass drum, you can place a second “out mic” 1 to 6 feet from the bass drum. This is often a large diaphragm condenser or a ribbon mic. You can also set up a subkick. A subkick is a speaker woofer (such as the Yamaha NS-10) mounted on a stand and wired to a microphone lead. Yamaha make a commercial model called the  SKRM-100 Subkick. Place the subkick a couple of inches directly behind the main kick mic.

You can isolate the bass drum from the other instruments by draping a heavy blanket over the front of the bass drum and over the microphones, supported by a few chairs. This also boosts the low end. It’s sometimes referred to as a “kick tunnel” or “drum tunnel”.

Popular bass drum microphones are the AKG 112, the modern version of the D 12, Sennheiser MD 421, Electro-Voice RE20, Shure Beta 52, and the old Neumann U 47 FET.

Snare Drum Microphones

The snare drum is close-miked to isolate it from the rest of the drum set. Snare drum microphones are usually dynamic microphones, since they can handle loud volumes at close proximity. For recording brushes, condensers tend to perform better.

Place the microphone at the edge of the drum, an inch above the rim and point it towards the center of the head. For less attack and more drum tone, point the mic closer to the edge of the snare drum. Position the snare drum microphone between the hi-hat and high tom, and angle it away from the hi-hats to reject hi-hat spill.

You can place a second mic on the snare side to capture the crisp, high frequency snare sound. Place it about an inch from the snare head, right under the snares. Position the bottom mic at 90 degrees to the top mic to minimize phase cancellation problems. Position both snare drum mics in the direction the snares run for a crisp snare sound.

The Shure SM57 is the most popular snare drum microphone. The Sennheiser MD 441 is a popular snare side mic. Condenser mics can also be used such as the AKG C 451.

Tom-tom Microphones

Tom-tom mics are usually dynamic microphones but condenser mics can also be used. To mike tom-toms, position the microphone at the edge of the drum, 2-3 inches above the rim. Point the mic towards the center of the drum. For less attack and more drum tone, point the mic closer to the edge of the tom-tom. Position the tom-tom mics parallel to each other to minimize phase cancellation problems.

Toms are usually miked with dynamic microphones. The Sennheiser MD 421 is the most popular tom-tom microphone. The Shure SM57 and Audio-Technica ATM25 are popular alternatives. Condensers can also be used such as the AKG C 414.

Hi-hat Microphone

Position a small condenser mic about six inches above the hi-hat, on the side furthest from the rest of the drum kit. Angle it away from the snare drum to reduce spill. Point the hi-hat mic towards the edge of the hi-hat for high-frequency “sizzle”, towards the bell for a thicker, upper-mid "chink" or where the stick hits the hi-hat for a high definition "chick" sound.

You can also mike the ride cymbal individually If it is too quiet. Position a small condenser mic underneath the ride about six inches away. Angle the mic towards the bell of the ride cymbal for more ping or towards the edge for more wash.

The most popular hi-hat microphones are the AKG C 451, Shure SM81 and the Neumann KM 184.

Room Microphones

Room mics capture ambient sound of the drums and make them sound natural. They will make the drums sound big because of the slight delay between the sound reaching the drum mics and the room mics. Room mics are usually condenser or ribbon microphones.

Position the room mics four to six feet high and six to ten feet in front of the drums. There are two main ways to set up room mics.

Parrallel Room Microphones

Position the room mics parallel to each other looking at very edge of each side of the drum kit.

ORTF Room Microphones

Position the room mics in the center of the drum kit, about 7 inches apart at a 110 degree angle to each other. You can also use a stereo microphone.

Some popular room mics include the Neumann U 87 and the Royer R-121.