Today I will be showing you on how to create a ‘standard’ drum mic set up. I will walk you through all the necessary parts of the kit and for those of you who are advanced in audio recording, I will also be discussing how to shape and sculpt the tone of a drum kit. For a standard drum mic set up you will required to mic: Kick, Snare, Toms, Floor Tom and overheads.
Lets discuss the type of mic needed to record the kick drum.
The kick drum is one of the hardest instruments to record due to the beating that any mic receives. The size and repetitiveness of the pressure wave emanating from a kick drum makes this a relatively tough job for any microphone to withstand. After an extended period recording kick drums it is likely that the diaphragm of moving-coil mics will have stretched and deteriorated making them deliver a weaker recording.
Thankfully however, many microphone companies have recognised the issue and have a brought out multiple mics to withstand the beating of the beater. The first mic that must be discussed and known is the AKG D112. The D112 is a mic almost as common as the SM 58 as its reputation for being a low cost and well respected kick drum mic has not gone unnoticed. A robust and tough microphone with a low diaphragm resonance that can handle up to 168db SPL (Sound Pressure Level) with no audible distortion.
However, other microphones that you should keep your eyes out for would be the Shure PG52 and the Shure Beta 91A. The PG52 is the cheapest of the three microphones but is certainly not at any disadvantage when it comes to performance. This mic is multipurpose and is tailored for kick drums and bass amps, it’s cardioid pattern rejects unwanted noise and minimises feedback. It’s durable too with a hardened steel mesh grille and an internal shock mount reduces handling noise.
The Shure Beta 91A is a kick drum mic which is a uniform half-cardioid polar pattern tailored for kick drum/low frequency applications with a wide dynamic range for use in high SPL environments (150 SPL). Two-position contour switch to maximize attack and clarity depending on application. The flat response setting is for a natural sound in most applications, while the second setting notches out low-mid frequencies (400Hz) for a strong low frequency “punch” with plenty of higher frequency attack.
The snare is yet another part of the drum kit that requires attention to detail, the tone of the snare needs to fit with the rest of the track but also be the strong backbone along with the kick. Savvy producers and drummers will tell you that you can alter the tone of the drum kit using a mix of blankets, duck tape and dampener rings and gel pads to achieve a number of tones and results. It is imperative that you achieve your desired tone before you start recording. It’s in your best to fix the problem in reality rather than create more work for yourself in the mix.
When it comes to recording the snare, the most common choice is a dynamic microphone and is usually a Shure SM57 because it can handle the high SPL and everybody has one. The SM57 You can put them as close to the drum as you like and the closer it gets, the more mid to low end it will pick up, giving the drum sound more weight. However, it isn’t the only option, the Sennheiser MD-441is another tried and tested dynamic mic and what it lacks in the high frequencies, more than makes up for it in the mids and lows. This mic is best suited if you want a warm and thick vintage sound rather than a bright and sharp snare tone.
The use of condenser microphones might seem like a poor choice as they aren’t usually robust enough to withstand the high SPL’s, however, I there are a number of condenser mics that are able to withstand the harsh dynamic range of the drum kit. As condenser mics don’t compress the transient of the drum, the attack stays at a much higher level than the sustain of the drum. They are perfect if you are looking for a very crisp and clear snare sound with a lot of attack to cut through a mix.
The AKG C414 is an exemplary microphone with an outstanding transient response and a high frequency tone which will give a snare drum brightness. It is a compact mic for a large diaphragm condenser so is quite easy to position, and works particularly well as an under-snare mic. The Neumann KM84 has an outstanding high end response and transient response which takes absolutely nothing away from a very bright snare drum. It is an all rounder but works particularly for recording the overheads.
Recording toms is a similar operation to recording the snare, there are a few tips to follow for the best recording possible. Firstly, always make sure that you have achieved your desired sound first before you start recording. There’s no need to ‘fix it in the mix’ when you get it right from the start. Using duck tape, ring dampeners and gel pads to change the tone of your toms are just a few ways of experimenting with new tones and textures.
Secondly and this is important, when setting up your microphones around the kit, never put mics in the way of the drummer. You’re trying to capture a natural performance and you won’t be able to if the drummer can’t drum comfortably and ends up hitting a microphone instead of a tom.
To avoid this, try placing the mic, 6 inches away from the tom and have the head of the microphone point towards the centre of the skin for the greatest source of attack. If you are looking for a softer approach, you can either try pointing the mic toward the edge of the skin or simply adjust the position by moving it closer or further away.
Your choice of mics is the next port of call and of course you could use another SM57, however, there are better alternatives if you’re willing to pay or if you happen to be so lucky and have them at your disposal. The Elctrovoice RE-20 is a dynamic cardioid microphone and is another great all rounder that has a strong durability due to a heavy-duty internal pop filter which reduces proximity effects. Blast and wind filters cover each acoustic opening and the mic comes with its own shock mount to reduce vibration. What’s surprising is that this mic was originally intended to be a broadcasters microphone but performs well on multiple levels.
If you’re struggling for space and you don’t have any mic stands left, then I’d like to introduce you to the Sennheiser E604 Dynamic Cardioid for Snare and Toms. These mics are small and mighty as you’ll be able to tell in my Soundcloud examples below. Typically used for live sound, these microphones are specifically designed to withstand high SPL and deliver clear results.
Now we’ve reached the most important part of the kit to record as the overheads record the cymbals as well as the spill from the rest of the kick. The overheads capture the room and blend the individual hits of the kit together. To record overheads, you want to set up a stereo array that will give your recording a sense of space with the natural reverb of the room that you’re recording in. Unfortunately the room in which you are recording in does play largely in how well the recording can ultimately be but that can be subject to digital processing and can be adjusted in the mixing stage.
The first stereo array that needs to be discussed is the XY array. This is a very simple array to set up and requires two small diaphragm condenser mics and the first pair that I want to discuss are the sE Electronics SE-1a’s. I used this exact array in my drum recording examples below due to their reliability, their ability to withstand high SPL’s, the ease of use of the array itself which isn’t always the best way to
record overheads, but using the XY array will continuously deliver the same standard of results meaning its repeatable. The SE-1a’s have a frequency response range of 30Hz-20kHz and have no problem capturing the drum kits wide range of frequencies with clarity and detail. The sE Electronics SE range offer more expensive and better quality microphone pairs such as the SE-5’s which offer a -10dB and -20dB pad as well as a filter notch of 100Hz which can be applied to decrease the level of proximity effect.
Moving away from the small diaphragm condensers are the large diaphragm condensers such as the AKG C-414’s these microphones are noticeably more expensive but for a very good reason. With a combination of 9 different polar patterns (5 main polar patterns: Cardioid, Figure of eight, Hyper Cardioid, Omnidirectional and Wide cardioid and 4 in combinations), the C-414’s, 3 different pad levels (-6,-12,-18dB) and 3 different notch positions (40, 80, 160Hz) this microphone as a stereo array is capable of almost anything. Having two C-414’s in a spaced pair both pointing at the centre of the kit (usually aiming at the snare drum) produces a balanced and clear recording.
That’s all for now but please listen to my audio examples that I’ve posted below. This is what I was able to capture from following these simple rules and microphone combinations. Use them as guides for quality and keep practicing.