Drum miking techniques are a crucial part of the recording process. If you don’t know what you’re doing, your mix will sound bad and have little clarity.
There is a whole chain of processes in drum recording. Drum miking isn’t as important as one might think. A few things come before and after focusing on miking the drums.
Steps in drum recording:
- Preparing the acoustic room
- Having all the necessary recording equipment
- Coming prepared for performance (technically and mentally)
- Tuning drums to match the genre and tuning them overall
- Miking the drums (choosing miking technique, placement, etc.)
- Mixing the drums
In this article, we will go through all the important drum miking techniques and talk about:
- Recording drums by genre
- Miking the drums with 1,2,3,4,5,7 or more microphones
- Mic placement
Let’s dive into drum miking techniques and leave other parts of the recording process for later.
Recording drums by genre
- Classic rock
- Modern rock
- Indie rock and folk
- The ’70s
For this drum miking technique, you only need three microphones. This technique has been used heavily in the 60s and 70s, and it’s related to famous producer Glyn Johns.
Glyn Johns is a producer and engineer who worked with iconic classic rock bands in the 60s and 70s.
- bass drum mic
- two overhead mics
In this technique, only the bass drum has a dedicated mic. The rest of the components don’t use close microphones but the overhead captures the rest of the entire kit.
If you want to capture a softer attack of the bass drum, move the mic slightly away from the bass drum. In case attack is what you need, put the mic inside closely to the batter head (in case you resonant head has a whole)
Place one overhead mic right above the snare drum and the other next to the floor tom. Make sure both are spaced equally from the snare drum to avoid phasing issues.You can measure the space either with meter or by using the microphone cable to make sure distance is the same.
For rock drum sound, we are going to use the wide-open, medium tuning. Pitch resonant (bottom) heads slightly higher than batter heads (top). For snare and bass drum, use a little bit of muffling.
Opposite to classic rock setup, the modern rock mic setup uses eight or more mics and uses close microphones not only for the bass drum but for the snare and toms.
You can get more control by adding a separate overhead mic on the hi-hat and an additional mic on the resonant snare head.
- snare mic
- bass drum mic
- tom mics
- two overhead
- two room mics
You have a lot more room for control in the mixing process. For instance, if you need more dynamics, you can bring the room mics up. For more clarity, you can play around with close mics.
There is even more room to play in terms of mic placement. In the standard setup, overheads are placed above the kit from each side, at the equal distance from the snare.
Room microphones are placed at different heights. One should be slightly above the tom height and the other at the same height as overheads. As I said, you can always play around; this is just a basic setup.
To achieve the modern rock sound, you want medium to low tuning with a little bit of muffling on kick and snare to get the punchy sound.
For the basic jazz miking setup, we are using only three microphones. The bass drum mic is always placed in front of the bass drum and never inside. Also, the jazz kit doesn’t have a hole in the bass drum resonant head.
It would be best to change the grip to traditional and use the lighter sticks, so you get those “jazzy” ghost notes. Also, jazz drummers use a lighter drum beater.
- one bass drum
- two overheads
Opposite from a rock setup, overhead microphones are placed in an XY pattern in a jazz setup. The reason for this is getting a medium-wide stereo image of the whole kit.
In the jazz setup, there is no need for any muffling on the kit and the snare. Bring the pitch of all the drum heads up.
Indie rock and folk
This is a four-microphone setup with two mics on the bass and snare and two more overheads but placed behind the kit to get dry but open sound.
With mics behind the kit, you’ll be able to strike a better balance between drums and cymbals.
- one bass drum
- one snare drum
- two overheads
This genre uses very low tuning with moderate muffling on the bass drum and heavy muffling on the snare. We tried using BFSD drum heads, and it turned out really good.
You can also use your old drum head. Put it on top of the snare to get the darker and dryer sound.
This setup relies on close microphones to get that dry and punchy sound while using two overheads placed above the kit from each side to get a wide stereo image.
The characteristic for this setup is heavy muffling on all drum parts so, go ahead and put some fabric, towels, drumheads or anything that will dampen the sound completely.
Also, remove the resonant (front) drumhead from the bass drum.
- one bass drum
- one snare drum
- tom mics
- two overheads
What you want to do to get the ’70s sound is to remove the sustain. That’s why you want to use towels and additional drumheads. By removing the resonant head from the bass drum and leaving the blanket or sponge inside, you will remove any remaining sustain.
Use mid to low tuning and make sure it sounds punchy and clear.
Drum kit miking with different number of mics
- five to seven
- seven or more
Miking drums with one mic
Professional recording studios do not use this technique.
However, it’s very simple and useful for making Instagram and YouTube videos or recording yourself to monitor the progress.
It’s all about finding the sweet spot. Usually, it’s in front of the drum kit but try experimenting with height.
Sound can differentiate depending on the room, so play around and try finding the best placement.
Miking drums with two mics
This was one of the professional techniques in the ’50s and ’60s. The first mic is placed on the bass drum either in front or inside, while the second mic overhead mic is placed directly above the kit.
This technique was revived during the 80s, when overheads became common.
It’s a great way to get more of an overall sound due to not favoring one instrument, such as the kick drum.
The drawback is that this can create phase issues, so pay attention to placement and EQ.
Usually, the lighter you play, you get a better sound, but if you decide to use this technique, go harder on the drum kit and lighter on the cymbals to get the big drum sound.
Miking drums with three mics
This was another technique in the ’50s and ’60s but is not used much today. The first mic is on the bass drum. The condenser mic is placed about midway between the snare and hi-hat, while a third mic would be over or near toms depending on the placement of drums.
Please make sure both of the overheads are equally distanced from the snare center to ensure they are in phase with each other.
This technique is still being used in professional studios but with two important factors, a professional recording room and a good-sounding drummer
Miking drums with four mics
This technique is very common. It’s known as Glyn Johns’s technique (the music producer) used. The technique uses two close mics on bass and snare and two overheads, one high above the kit and the other from the side, above the floor tom aiming for the toms and hi-hat.
Producers that are looking for transparency and dynamics from their drum sounds still use this technique.
All the techniques with a small number of microphones rely on the room acoustic and reduce the amount of control you’re able to have with seven or more microphones.
You can improve the drums sound with EQ and compression, but as the sound starts to get too compressed, cymbals start bleeding into other drums, which takes away from the dynamics of this specific mic configuration.
Miking drums with five-seven mics
Why is there not much difference between a five or seven mics drum recording setup, you might ask?
Because it’s the same technique being used with four mics but with additional tom mics.
This setup includes one mic on the snare, one on the bass drum., two overheads and tom mics. So if you have a basic setup of two to three toms, you will use six to seven microphones.
Live performance setup usually ends up here, but for a studio, it’s a different situation. In the last miking setup, we will go through additional mics being used in a studio.
Miking drums with seven or more mics
This technique includes close mics on all drum parts, two overheads and additional mics. Here are all the additional mics that professional producers use to get more control.
- The second top mic on the snare
- The bottom mic on the snare
- bass drum mic inside
- Room microphones
The second top mic on the snare is used for getting more high-end.
The bottom mic on the snare is used to get a lot of low-end frequencies.
Mic inside the bass drum will capture mostly all lows coming from that instrument, and it’s also positioned close enough to be affected by the room sound, which gives you more flexibility in mixing.
The room mic is used to get more ambiance and a sense of space.
This technique is used to get a bigger sound, especially when you need clarity but still want the entire drum set to be heard at one time.
The downside with this approach is that it can take more channels than the other ones.
Drum miking techniques
There are four common ways of miking the snare drum.
- The basic way used the most is placing the mic from a side pointed straight towards the center of the snare. It’s about two fingers or a couple of inches above the rim, and being that close; it achieves a certain proximity effect.
2. To get a brighter snare tone with less attack and more body sound, back it off slightly but keep aiming for the center.
3. The third approach is to lift the mic a little bit but aim for the same sweet spot to get even more attack.
4. If you want to reduce the attack, aim the mic closer to the edge of the snare.
There are two ways of miking the kick drum. The first one is like in the old days, placing the mic in front of the bass drum to reduce the attack. This technique is still used mostly in jazz.
The second approach is putting the mic inside the hole in the resonant head of the bass drum.
These two techniques are commonly used together. However, some producers prefer having one more mic inside, in the center of a bass drum.
For this purpose, they usually use Shure Beta 91A.
Toms are usually miked with one mic, placed to capture the full sound of the drum. For this purpose, it is generally being used as a dynamic mic.
In many cases, engineers combine overhead and close-miking techniques by using two microphones – one above drums and another in front of them. This gives a nice stereo image without too many phase problems.
Drum Overheads mic techniques
- Spaced pair
- Glyn Johns technique
The XY method was invented with the idea to have mics close together to achieve ultimate phase coherence. The microphones are pointed towards each other, so the capsule touches at a 9o degree angle. Ideally, they would occupy the same space in the air.
This method provides a lot of focus and a decent stereo spread.
Mics are about 6,5 inches apart with an angle of 110 degrees between the capsules. The height is the same as for the XY method, but this time angle is different, and mics are crossed.
This method will reduce the cymbal sound and provide a wider stereo image than the XY, but the downside is more bleed from the rest of the band.
Spaced pair approach
It usually starts by choosing whether a snare or a kick drum will be in the center, between two microphones. After that, it’s all about matching the phase, and the component in the center will have the same phase while others may be flipped due to different proximity.
To avoid phase cancellation, place mics further apart and lower them down a little bit.
Glyn Johns technique
Glyn Johns is a method that was developed as a compromise between Spaced pair and more focused methods.
Fist overhead is placed 3-4 feet above the snare. The second mic looks over the shoulder of the floor tom towards the hi-hat.
Make sure both mics are equally distanced from the snare.
This kind of technique offers great coverage of the entire kit. A lot of records are made with only four mics.
Room mics placement
In this area, producers experiment the most. Room mics placement can be tricky because they are usually used to capture the ambiance and the room. Therefore, it is always used a condenser mic.
If you want a raw sound, use only one mic in front of the kit, so it captures reverb from the entire drum set as well as close-miked sounds. If using two microphones, try placing them on opposite sides of the room.
Be free to experiment with the mic height and use room ambiance to your advantage.
In a small room, place the mics close to the ceiling and in bigger rooms closer to floor level.
Reverb is controlled by positioning the mic’s distance from surfaces (walls, ceilings).
If you want more natural sound, experiment with less dryer drum microphones or even lay down blankets on walls and floors before recording.
Here comes the part that is not so fun. Purchasing good studio microphones. For close mics, you will need dynamic mics, while for the overheads and room mics, you will need condenser mics.
Here is the main difference between these two:
- Dynamic mics are more sensitive to disturbances in the air, so they can be used for close drumming but have a limited frequency response.
- Condenser microphones, on the other hand, reproduce sound with much higher fidelity and offer better low-end frequencies but need a phantom power)
The most popular studio microphones are:
- AKG D112
- Shure Beta 52A
- Audix D6
- Sennheiser e602 II
- Sennheiser e902
- Shure Beta 91A
- Yamaha Subkick
- AKG C414 B-ULS
- Audix i5
- Beyerdynamic M201TG
- Electro-Voice N/D468
- Josephson Engineering C42
- Neumann KM 84
- Sennheiser MD 421-II
- Sennheiser MD 441
- Shure SM57 Dynamic mic
- AKG C414 XLII large diaphragm condensers
- Shure KSM32
- Audio-Technica AT4033-CL
- Beyerdynamic M 201 TG
- Sennheiser e 604
- Rode M5
- AKG C214
- Shure KSM141
- Rode NT5
- sE Electronics sE4400a
- Beyerdynamic MC 930
- Behringer C-2
- Neumann KM184
- Neumann U87
- Shure KSM137 Studio Pair
- Audio-Technica AT4041
- Neumann U87 Ai
- AKG C414 XLII
- Royer Labs R-121 (ribbon mic)
- Audio-Technica AT4050
Along with microphones, you will need mic stands, microphone cables, preamps, audio cards or mixing consoles.
Preparing the room for drum recording
The importance of room in a drum recording process is often overlooked. However, it is important to take time to prepare the room for recording.
Room acoustics can change a lot depending on how you place gear, drums and isolation materials.
Dealing with reflections:
The best way to deal with unexpected reflections of sound waves from one surface back into another is by using acoustic absorption panels.
A room can make a substantial difference in how big the drum sound is. The rooms with high ceilings are perfect for rock drums. Small rooms, absorbent treated, or large rooms with panels are great for reducing the reverb and sustain that drums produce.
The best way to reduce sound reflections is by using acoustic panels made of rigid fiberglass or foam core that have been faced with reflective material on one side and non-reflective cloth. The reflectivity should be about 90% for maximum absorption.
If you have done everything right so far, mixing drums should be the easy part. Before mixing, check the levels and make sure the drums are balanced. This is especially important for the snare, kick drum and cymbals because their levels can be drastically different from each other.
Start with the most dominant instrument in your kit (i.e., the snare or kick), then fill in any gaps by adjusting the volume on thinner-sounding instruments such as toms.
Professional drummers and producers tend to add a little bit of reverb, eq and compression, but that’s about it. If your room sounds great, the whole drum kit is tuned, you have good equipment and great “out of hand” sound, then you are good to go.
If you’re not happy with the sound of your drums, try to adjust the placement of the microphones. For example, if you have a kick drum that’s too present in one channel and drowns other instruments such as snare or cymbals- move the mic farther from it to reduce its volume.
We hope this article helped you better understand drum recording techniques along with mic placement and miking overall.
Let us know if these tips work for you and what recording techniques work for you.