Perfecting a recording is a very difficult task when working with basic equipment. This article will focus on getting a stellar drum sound without multiple high end preamps, mics, and processors. There are two different methods I like to use for getting a great drum sound. One involves multiple mics and mic placements, while the other is a very basic mic setup. We’ll start basic and work our way to a more advanced approach.
The Basic Approach
The basic setup I’ve come up with is similar to how Jon Bonham achieved his drum sound. It’s a simplified approach which focuses on using your ears for best placement. I recommend using two, or even one condenser mic as an overhead. A good, low cost mic is the Audio Technica AT2020. It has nice clarity, good gain, and great reproduction in the high frequency range.
You could certainly go with a more expensive mic such as a neumann, but we’re focusing on a great sound within a budget studio. Now when setting up your mic/mics I recommend using your ear. Imagine that. Typically I will walk around the room with my ear towards the drums in search of a sweet spot. I find the closer you mic the drum, the more attack it will have, and the farther you move away with the mic, the more reverb and live sound it will have. There is definitely a sweet spot, typically 5-10 feet away from a kit, which will give you a clear, well balanced sound. Consider the image below. A simple two mic setup can get a great live feel for drums. Just make sure you are not getting cross phasing due to two mic paths crossing each other. This can create an unbalanced sound which is very hard to mix.
A More Advanced Approach
When thinking of a more advanced approach, I would consider using 7-8 mics on your kit.
I typically like to use two overheads spaced 3-4 feet away and above the drums, similar to the “Basic setup” above. These will capture cymbals and a well rounded sound for your kit.
As well, I recommend miking all toms with a simple clip on tom mic. Be sure to check the final recording though, as some clip ons can create unwanted ringing and distortion if not used properly. If your tom mics are getting a ring try using a mic stand as opposed to a clip on.
One of the most important parts of the kit are the kick and the snare. For the snare I recommend using condenser mics such as the AT2020, or even an sm57 both over and under the snare. The mic underneath will capture the “pop” from the snare drum wires. The mic above will cature the stick sound and the “pop” from the top drum head.
For the kick, I like to use a low frequency kick mic such as the Audix D6 or a Shure Beta 52A. You will need to adjust placement for the kick and decide whether it sounds better inside the drum itself, or slightly outside the kick. I usually test a few placements and record. I then listen back to decide what’s giving me the clearest and punchiest low end. Generally the closer you get to the kick, the more attack you will have. There is a fine balance when miking a kick. A compressor and gate will of course help tighten up the kick while gating the unnecessary high frequencies from your cymbals out. Just be sure not to gate the kick too hard, as this could cut your high end out all together resulting in a very “flabby” kick sound.
Last but not least, I always mic the hi-hat so that fast rolls, and paradiddles on the hat are captured. A condenser mic can capture a lot of the highs and give you more control over your hat when mixing. If your getting too much hat in your recording try reducing the gain out until you find the right level. If your recording digitally this can easily be done after the fact. BUT always make sure your hat sounds right before recording. Try not to rely on effects and plugins to do your work. You will always be displeased if you say “oh, I’ll fix it later digitally.”…FIX IT PRE-RECORDING!