Drum miking is an evolving art form.
The role of drums in the 1930’s sounds dramatically different than modern music. Listen to the Beetles, Led Zeppelin, and other music from the 60’s and 70’s. Also, listen to the way the drums punch (or lack thereof). The Drum Miking techniques of the 60’s and 70’s defined that era’s drum sound. Drum miking in the early days of recording was not a focal point of the production. The way bands were recorded back then was: put a single microphone in a room and everyone positioned themselves around it based off of the balance that was desired! If one person screwed up then EVERYONE had to re-record!
Drum miking can determine many creative and technical factors in your drum sound such as punch and size. The word “impact” can be used as a general term to describe how the listener will perceive the drums in the production. Drum miking can play a large part into the texture of your drums (i.e. gritty or clean). This includes the process of choosing the right microphones. Microphones can emphasize and compliment certain textures as mentioned above and what else do they do? Microphones also give you an EQ curve that can work for you, or against you.
You can learn more about the concepts behind miking here: 4 Steps To Make Better Recordings – The 4 Point Microphone System
The right microphone and placement helps the technical side as well.
When we mix drums we usually desire a certain amount of control over specific elements of the drum kit. Which would leave other elements of the kit unaffected. If I want to turn up, or EQ a snare, I want to ONLY affect the snare. The hihat can easily overpower a snare in the snare microphone if recorded improperly. What this does is takes away the ability to treat the snare without also affecting the hihat.
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A great example of a creative choice in a microphone would be the Sennheiser E602 on a rock kick drum. Notice how I wrote “rock” kick drum. It’s because for that genre and that style of kick drum it’s a fantastic compliment. For a jazz record it may not work so well because the tone of a jazz kick drum is very different than rock.
In the podcast Tom talks about his disdain for the classic Sennheiser MD421, what’s funny about that statement is it shows how people’s opinions also factors into microphone choice. Certain engineers may live and die by a particular microphone while others choose not to use them at all.
Dynamic microphones will give you a fantastic punchy, and gritty sound. Don’t forget to match the general EQ curve of the microphone to the sound source. Condenser microphones are great at giving you punch, but with a lot more detail and clarity. They are “prettier”. Again, you need to consider the EQ curve of the microphone for best results. Ribbon microphones are an interesting animal. The do not give us punch, or clarity. They are very dark and smooth. Tom and I speak of a recording session we did in the podcast where a use a pair or ribbon microphones on the overheads. What’s interesting is that the ribbon microphones did give me a nice low punch from the snare drum which was totally unexpected. Many times microphones will give you pleasant surprises.
Drum miking can also lead us to use multiple microphones so we have options in the mixing process. Snare Top and Bottom microphones give us 2 different textures from the same drum. You can also put 2 different microphones on just the top snare to get different tones from a similar part of the drum. Remember that the microphone is interpreting the sound in it’s own way so different microphones give us different interpretations. A great example of this is an SM57 on the “snare top” but having a condenser microphone (like a Shure SM81) right next to it.
In modern drum recording you will find two general schools of thought on miking overheads. Why is this significant? Well the overheads are the potential for the “complete picture” of the kit. One school of thought is to embrace this and have it contribute to a majority of your drum sound. The other school of thought is: use the overheads to capture the cymbals, not the tone of the whole kit. At which point your overall tone is coming from the individual (close) microphones.
Check out Episode 8 Part 3 Below!