Tech: How to Properly Mic a Drum Kit

Written by Mike Harmon Posted in: Tech on January 11, 2012

Setting microphones around a drum kit can be a bit confusing if you haven't done it before. Although you have several microphones picking up different sources, it's important to think of the drum kit as a single instrument. There are several different microphone techniques for every budget, and we'll be exploring several different concepts that are industry-standard setups. In this example, we'll be showcasing a drum set miking technique with the resources of a commercial recording studio.  


The Kick:

Capturing a good kick sound is imperative when recording a drumset. The kick can drive the song, and add a low-end punch that makes everyone want to put on their dancing shoes. In order to ensure that your kick drum doesn't sound like a cardboard box, you'll want to choose your microphones carefully. We have chosen a Shure Beta 52 as the microphone we'll be using to put in the porthole of the kick drum. This microphone will be responsible for capturing the "punch" aspect of your kick drum (mainly, the attack). This microphone, as well as many others we'll be using, is a Dynamic microphone with a Cardioid Polar Pattern. Depending on the engineer's preference, a AKG D112 or Audix D6 are typical substitutes. The second microphone we're using in miking our kick drum is a Sterling Audio ST59.

We are setting this microphone about 1ft. from the Bass Drum head, and it is responsible for capturing the "meat" ("oomph," "body," "beef," etc.) of the kick drum sound. We've chosen this distance from the bass drum head because it gives the opportunity for the sound of the low frequencies to travel through the air. This microphone (unlike the Beta 52), is a Multi-Pattern, Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone. We have the polar pattern set to Cardioid, so that we can pick up signal coming from the bass drum as opposed to other directions. Another microphone used commonly in this situation is the Yamaha Subkick. Designed as a large speaker with a reversed polarity, the Subkick can pick up frequencies lower than other microphones due to its large diaphragm. To learn more about how to save money by building your own subkick, click here.



The Snare:

Much like the kick drum, the snare is the heart of the drum set. We want to make sure that our backbeat has enough "snap" and "pop" to cut through the mix and help drive the song. We'll be placing two microphones on the snare drum to capture the sound in full, rather than just one aspect of the source. On the top of the snare drum, we're using a Shure SM57. This microphone is a go-to for several applications when miking instruments, and with its affordable price and reliable design it remains a standard in the recording industry. The mic on the top of the snare is responsible for the "pop" of our snare sound, mainly capturing the attack of the instrument.

The placement of this microphone is key, as we need to ensure that we're not getting too much of the hi-hat or rack toms. It is best to place the microphone at about a 40 degree angle, pointed toward the snare's center. This isolates the sound from the surrounding drums and cymbals, and gets the attack needed from the snare. Again, depending on the engineer's preference, a Shure SM58 or Audix i5 are typical Dynamic Cardioid mics. On the bottom of the snare drum, we're using an Audix i5. This microphone's responsibility lies in capturing the "crack" of the snare drum, and is situated to pick up the rattle from the snares on the bottom of the drum. Though we are using a dynamic microphone in this particular instance, several Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones are commonly used on the bottom of snares as well.



The Toms:

One thing we'd like to point out about the miking of our toms is that although the toms themselves are different sizes, we're using the same microphone on both. It's important to remember that we're capturing different sound sources from each of the toms, so it's best to have the same medium to capture the sounds. That being said, we're once again using our trusty Audix i5 on our toms. Placement, again, is key for these mics, and we're using a similar technique to the top of the snare drum in terms of angle and aiming the mic where the stick strikes the head. Acceptable and common substitutes are the Sennheiser MD421, Electro Voice RE-20, or Shure SM57.  



The Hi-Hat:

For the hi-hat microphone, we're using a Cascade M39 Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone. This microphone has a Cardioid Condenser Pattern, and is pointed at the hi-hat in an offset direction from the snare drum. We'll want to add a bit of crisp-ness to the sound in the mix stage, so it's important to ensure that the snare drum isn't bleeding into the hi-hat mic. Angling the mic slightly away from all of the other drums is key, since we want to keep our isolation under control. Typical small-diaphragm condenser mic substitutes are an AKG C 451, or a Shure SM81. Depending on the size of the hi-hats, a Shure SM7B can be a nice Dynamic mic alternative for trashier sounds.  



The Overheads:

Although there are several routes to go with Overhead miking techniques, we have chosen to use our Beez Neez Arabella Tube Condenser microphones. Aside from the awesome name, these Large-Diaphragm Condenser mics are great for several applications and are capturing the broad variety of sounds amongst the kit as a whole. Although they are mainly responsible for picking up the Cymbals around the kit, it is important to remember that the rest of the kit will be picked up as well.

That being said, placement of the Overheads is key. In this case, we've decided to go with a Spaced Pair stereo miking technique. We've measured the distance of the overheads from the middle of the snare drum to ensure that they are in phase, and focus the microphones around the crash and ride cymbals respectively. If the microphones are placed so they are picking up signal out of phase, you lose sonic artifacts (mainly low end) because the waveforms of the two tracks are canceling elements of each other out. Typical substitutes for the Beez Neez Overhead microphones are other Large-Diaphragm Condenser microphones, as well as Small-Diaphragm condenser microphones. The important thing to remember is that you'll need to make sure you're using the same microphone (a matched pair, if possible) on both the left and right sides of the Overheads. Though there are several other stereo miking techniques, we found that this application works best for what we needed.



The Room Mics:

Although it is not always imperative to capture a room sound when recording drums, it is a luxury. A great sounding room can be something that can add sonic richness to your recording, and it's often overlooked among amateur recording engineers. Capturing the instrument in the space which it was recorded is much more desirable than artificially creating a space using reverbs, in my opinion. When choosing where to put your room mics, have your drummer play while you walk around the room and find a place where you feel the room sounds best. For this instance of room mics, we're using our Cascade Fat Head SP Ribbon Mics.

Much like the Overheads, it is important to use two of the same microphones when capturing a stereo room environment. We've decided to set up these microphones in a Blumlein stereo miking technique, and have the mics placed about 15 feet away, pointed directly at the drum set. Again, depending on your engineer's preference, Large-Diaphragm and Small-Diaphragm condensers are suitable substitutions to Ribbon Microphones.


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