Proper Microphone Technique for Drums

Properly micing your drum set can make or break the success of your performances or recordings sound.     Improper mic placement can result in an amateur sound at best.   So here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your microphones and drums.

The Kick

The majority of microphones to be used on a drum set will be dynamic microphones.   This is because dynamic moving coil microphones feature a faster transient response.    That means they they are better at picking up the initial attack of the drums.    As with all bass instruments it is better to go with a larger diaphragm microphone.  So on the kick drum a large diaphragm dynamic mic is the obvious choice such as the AKG D112 or the Shure Beta 52.     There are a few things to consider regarding the placement of the microphones on drums.   The closer the mic is placed to the center of the drum  thicker and creamier tone may result.  This may be a desired effect for funk and rock n roll sounds but what if you play in a jazz trio and you’re looking for a more natural sound.   Try placing the mic closer to the rim of the kick drum to  pic up the ringing shell, or try and off axis placement where you may place the mic near the center of the drum but aim the mic toward the shell or vice versa.   In this way you can dial in a combination of the two desired sounds.     For you metal guys try miking the other side of the kick by the beater.   I find an off axis technique aimed right for the point of contact works the best.   For even more attack  tape a quarter to the beater to give you enough attack to cut right through those muddy guitars and basses and really articulate blast beats.

The Snare and Toms

The same principles apply to the snare drums as kicks.   Thicker, fatter sounds can be found toward the center of the drum while more natural shell sounds can be found on rim.    The glaring problem with this is that you will need the mic out of the way of the sticks so for the snare and toms an off axis placement is implemented.    The preferred mic of choice for snares and toms are also dynamic microphones however in the case of a snare drum a smaller diaphragm top address instrument mic is preferred such as the Shure SM57.


Now that you have all of the drums mic’d up you can shift you attention to the cymbals.

Rather than using dynamic microphones on cymbals you should use condenser mics.   You wont need as much transient response so you can feel free to take advantage of the added clarity and detail offered by condenser microphone.    The over heads will be placed on boom stands and as you can imagine elevated over the drummers head.    The most common techniques call for the use of two mics to be mixed in stereo either in coincident, where the mics are placed close together and aimed in different directions, or spaced pairs where the mics are placed further apart and aimed at specific cymbals.    In both cases the mics are typically aimed at the ride and hi-hat.    To simplify the overhead set up a stereo microphone can be particularly handy.   My personal favorite is a stereo ribbon mic like the AT4081.

Accent Mics

So say you have you have your drums mic’d up and you have a few extra condensers available.   To cover your bases you can add a few accent mics to your cymbals.   Typically the first choice for a spare mic will be on the high hat or the bell of the ride cymbal.    Cymbals have similar properties to drums in that micing closer to the edge of a cymbal will result in mid range washy sound while micing the center or bell of a cymbal will yield a tinny higher pitched tone.      Another popular technique using a small diaphragm condenser mic is to pair it up with a small diaphragm dynamic mic on the stare maximizing the best of both worlds and combining fantastic transient response with clarity and detail.    Phase issues may result in the combination so it may be necessary to make some adjustments on your preamps or physically manipulate the two mics so that the sound arrives at both mic capsules at the same time.   Placing a mic on the underside of a snare drum may give you some extra sizzle.

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