Drum Miking [The Definitive Guide]
Posted in Learn | Last Updated on May 1, 2020
Drum miking or micing drums, whatever you prefer, is largely spending time experimenting with different microphones and varying their distance and placement from the drums. While this can be time consuming, there are many tried and true techniques to get the best recording or live sound out of your set. There are 2 main methods to miking drums. Open and Closed Miking.
Closed Miking means you're putting a mic on each individual drum to mix each one. Open Miking is just placing 1 or 2 overheads in the room to capture the entire set as one instrument. Of course with this method, you cannot mix each drum individually. Some fundamental things can affect the quality of your recording before you even start setting up mics: The quality of the drum heads, the way the drums are tuned and muffled, etc. If your set sounds bad in the room, it won't sound much better in a recording.
Try to get it sounding great before you even set up your first microphone. Here we'll cover some of the more popular methods for miking drums that have been used for years. This will take some time out of the guess work and experimentation. The important thing is not to limit yourself. There is no recording police, no methods are forbidden for miking drums, so never be afraid to try something new. You may find a variations of common techniques work best for your application.
Just a word of caution, I've heard there are scammers out there selling fake microphones on various sites. The fakes looks very close to the authentic ones. One way to currently spot a fake is that the tops don't swivel. If yours doesn't, you may have a fake, but the scammers keep evolving their fakes to look more authentic. Just be cautious about deals that seem too good. There is plenty more information on youtube for details on that. Since we are on vocal equipment topic, after that read you can take a look at best vocal harmonizer article.
Miking bass drums
Ok here we will review some popular mics, and I will give you some know how. You want to select a microphone depending on the dimensions of your bass drum. Each microphone varies in frequency response. While there are several bass drum mics on the market today, three of the most popular bass drum microphones are the Shure Beta-52A and the AKG D-112 and the Sennheiser e602. You can also get a "Sub-kick" as a second microphone. It is basically using a 6 inch or 8 inch speaker with the positive and negative contacts attached to a microphone cable going into your recorder. These are generally placed parallel a few inches away from the resonant side of the bass drum to pick up the low end tones.
Solomon mic makes one that's a bit pricey or you can make one yourself at home. Mounting it is the tricky part. Generally, it's recommended the resonant head on your bass drum have a microphone hole or kickport installed in order to place the microphone inside. This isn't required but you generally get a better sound if you do. Some have even boiled a metal coffee can upside down on a stove to "burn" a perfectly shaped circle on a regular drum head.
The Kickport is a much safer way to go. When miking drums, the goal is to get the best sound from the drum BEFORE you start EQ'ing anything. Try the mic just outside the sound hole, try it all the way inside the drum, etc... One popular method is to put the bass drum mic all the way inside the drum a few inches away from the batter head. Others will place the mic about 1/2 way inside the sound hole. The more the mic is aimed at where the bass drum beater makes contact, the more high end slap you will get. You can angle the mic towards the edge where the batter drum head meets the shell to get more tone out of the drum.
In the photo below, you will see a Shure Beta-52A microphone mounted internally working with a home made 6" sub kick a few inches away from the resonant side of the bass drum head. Mixing these two microphones gives you a nice mix of punch with lots of low end frequencies.
Shure BETA 52A Supercardioid Dynamic
Sennheiser e602 II Evolution Series Dynamic Bass-drum Microphone
Shure DMK57-52 Drum Microphone Kit
Kickport FX 2 Bass Drum Sonic Enhancement Port
Solomon MiCS LoFReQ Sub Mic Microphone
Miking Snare Drums
You may want to try an O-ring, Ritchie Ring, Zer0-ring, etc... in order to prevent a high pitched ring from resonating from the snare (Listen to Metallica's St. Anger to hear what I mean - unless thats the sound you're going for, in which case, it's all good.) The most common snare drum mic the Shure SM-57. For placing the mic over the snare aimed as much behind you as possible to prevent bleed-over from other drums, you generally want a 30-45 degree angle, about 2-3 inches over the drum, aimed near the center of the head.
The sound will be more thin as its aimed toward the edge. Make sure it's not in the way of the player. You can also use a second Shure SM-57 underneath the snare to capture a bit of the rattle. On it's own this mic will be a bit too bright, but use in tandem with the top mic, a bit lower on the mixer, you get a really full snare recording. For placing the lower mic, place it at the center of the drum about 2-3 inches below the bottom head and aim it at the snare wires.
In the photo below, you will see the Shure SM-57 mounted on a stand for the top head of the snare drum. This is a second Shure SM-57 mounted a few inches below the bottom snare head. Ideally you want to run this into a separate channel from the top mic as they need to be mixed differently to get the best sound.
Shure SM57LC Cardioid
Instrument Microphone Miking toms
This section covers drum miking for both rack and floor toms. The quality of the drum heads and how they are tuned will greatly affect the way your toms sound. You can also get O-rings or various muffling devices to reduce over-ring if that is an issue for you. Common tom mics are the trusty Shure SM-57 or a Sennheiser e604. There is also a pricier Sennheiser MD 421 or the Apex multi drum mic packs which work great as well.
You generally want to use the same type of mic for all the toms for a consistent sound. You want the tom mic on the edge of the drum, about 2-3 inches away from the head aimed about 1/3rd from the center to prevent snare bleed-over as much as possible. The more the mic is aimed towards the edge, the thinner the sound will be. On the floor toms, you can aim the mic more towards the edge to get less boominess.
When miking drums, make sure the mics are not in the way of the player, sometimes you may need to move something a slightly to make the player comfortable.In the photo below, you will see a Shure SM-57 mounted at the proper angle and distance from a rack tom. In the photo below, you will see a Shure SM-57 mounted at the proper angle and distance from a floor tom.
Sennheiser E604 Dynamic Cardioid for Snare and Toms
Miking cymbals is similar in most ways to drum miking. Obviously the quality of your cymbals will reflect the quality of the recordings. A good condenser mic will do well as an overhead mic to pick up all the cymbals. Common overhead mics are the Shure SM 94's. For a smaller budget, you can also use some Shure SM-57's. The Apex condensers are also a bit cheaper but do a pretty good job as well. One method is to have 2 overheads panned left and right on the board about arms length over the cymbals, about 1/2 way of the depth of the entire set up.
Some are very cautious to make sure the mics are the exact same distance from the snare drum. For Hi-hats and ride cymbals, a common microphone is the AKG C430. For the hi-hat, you can either mic on top or the bottom aiming about 1/3rd towards the center, a few inches away. For the ride cymbal, it's common to place it just a few inches aimed right at the center.
Shure SM94 Instrument Microphone
Miking drums overhead
When miking drums, your overhead mics should be the same type of microphone. Popular models are the Shure SM 94's or the Neumann U67's. Depending on your budget, any condenser mic should do nicely. Some put their mics in an X Y Configuration, meaning they are 90 degrees of each other to pick up frequencies traveling in all directions.
Used mainly for open miking alone, or in tandem WITH closed miking, room microphones pick up ambient tones that resonate from the drum kit as a whole. A popular microphone among professionals is the AKG 414. These are usually in an X Y Configuration as well.
Good luck with miking drums and Happy Recording!