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Miking up a drum kit can be one of the most daunting tasks for budding audio engineers, due to the number of individual components that make up the kit, their close proximity to each other and the different sounds they all produce. However it is also a scenario where there are no hard and fast rules, simply guidelines to point you in the right direction, and help you achieve a sound that works for your specific project.
Let’s take a look at some of the common mic placement techniques, and microphone types that will help you pull a great sound every time!
Start at the source!
Before you place any microphones around the kit, listen carefully to the drums being played live. If the heads are old, dull or out of tune nothing will save them in the recording stage. Replace any worn out drum heads and spend some time to tune the drums before you begin. Check for any pedals or hardware that squeak or rattle when played, and that includes the drummer’s throne! Sensitive condenser mics will pick up these sounds and there will be no way to remove them once they’re through all your tracks!
Lastly spend some time to listen to the room you are in. Move the drum kit to different areas of the room to see if this changes the sound due to reflections from nearby walls or ceilings. Some genres of music may call for big, reflective tones but others may not, so use your creative judgment as to what is going to suit your exact project.
Once you have a well tuned, good sounding kit in the best spot in the room, you can begin to think about how exactly you want to capture your drum sounds.
Distant Miking, as the name suggests, is the technique of placing microphones far from the source, to capture a natural and ambient recording of the drum kit as a whole. This is common for softer music styles like jazz, where the drums sit in the background of the track, and no emphasis on individual components is required.
Distant miking is typically achieved with one, or only a few microphones, positioned in a way that a good balance is achieved between the desired parts of the kit, and the room.
For the most minimal distance mic setup, try just one microphone out in front of the kit, or behind the kit to capture the drummer’s perspective. Try to find a height that captures a good mix of the kick, snare, toms and also the cymbals. Too low and the kick will overpower the rest of the drums, too high and the cymbals will dominate the mix. The further you move away from the drums, the more room sound will enter your recording, so try to find the sweet spot that gives you a nice balance of all these components.
A large diaphragm condenser mic, like the RØDE NT1, or NT2-A will be a good choice for this minimalistic setup, as they are very sensitive with a wide frequency response to pick up all components of the kit. Ribbon microphones like the RØDE NTR are also a popular choice.
To capture a wider stereo image of the kit, try an XY pair of small diaphragm condenser mics, such as the RØDE NT5 or NT55’s above the kit, pointed down towards the left and right sides of the kit, or a spaced pair of large diaphragm microphones like the RØDE NT1 to give you an even wider stereo image.
To learn more about XY or the spaced pair stereo technique stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on Stereo Mic Techniques.
Keep in mind with this method as you are recording all the components of the kit into one or two microphones you will have no control over mixing individual components in post production. Using the microphone placement is the only way you can “favour” certain elements, by placing the mic closer to the kick for example, you will have more kick drum in your mix etc.
In Part 2 of this post we will look at close miking drums, giving us more options and control over our drum recording!