If you are recording drums in your studio and only have a few mics to work with you might be thinking "How am I going to get a great sound without having a huge mic locker?"
Well I'm here to tell you that you don't actually need many mics to get a really cool drum sound. In fact there are even some benefits to using only a few mics at a time on drums.
This is a continuation of the previous blog posts I wrote Five Tips For Awesome Drums In Your Home Studio and How To Choose The Best Drum Mics (For Your Home Studio).
So here are 8 ways that you can record your drums with one, two, or three mics.
1 - SINGLE MIC SOUL METHOD
This is really simple and involves taking only one mic to record your drum kit. Essentially there are as many ways as you can think of since you can move the mic around to different spots and listen to see which sound best.
One cool way to start is to plug your ears and walk around the kit while the drummer is playing. When you hear a particularly good sound try placing the mic right there, and see how it works out. If that doesn't work listen to see what exactly you don't like about the sound and adjust accordingly. For example, if you don't hear enough hi hat move the mic closer to it. Or if you hear too much crash cymbal then either move the crash cymbal away from the mic, or move the mic further away from the crash cymbal. Easy right?
The single mic soul technique Is one that I heard about the Dap Kings using for their records (credit goes to Goffrey Moore for hipping me to this). Place the mic between the kick and snare drum so that it's hearing both pretty closely. If you add some compression at 2:1 or 4:1 You can get a really cool "In your face" kick and snare sound. Hopefully you can hear just the right amount of high hat as well. If not then again just move things around slightly till you find a sweet spot and balance for what you need. Remember that each groove might require different elements to be heard.
2 - SINGLE OVERHEAD
And another great way to mic the drums with a single mic is to use a single overhead looking down at the drums. Just put the mic above the kit Looking down so that it sees a little bit of each drum if possible. (If the mic doesn't see a drum then it may not hear it well)
If you find that the drums sound too far away or too roomy then just move the mic down closer to the drum kit. Make sure that the mic itself doesn't get in the way of the drummers ability to play or do fills, and you should be good to go! If you have any other mics and want to hear more kick or snare then you can always add close mics to those drums as needed.
3 - SPACED PAIR
If you have a pair of mics then you can start to get into some really cool stereo miking tricks. The simplest one to start Is the spaced pair method. This can be done with cardiod or omni mics.
When I first learned about different stereo miking techniques I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. So I raced home to meet up with my friend Meghan, and we started miking everything we could find using different stereo methods. One of the instruments that lends itself very well to stereo miking is of course the drum kit.
For the spaced pair method all you need to do is take one mic and put it above the high hat and snare looking down, and the other mic above the ride and floor tom side looking down. You should be able to pan these two mics hard left and right to get a cool stereo drum sound. Make sure to check the sound in mono too to see that the polarity between the two mics is correct so that you don't accidentally cancel out the lower frequencies.
Also be sure to listen to each individual drum in the drum set to make sure that you're hearing a decent balance of all the elements of the kit. If something is not right start moving mics around, or start moving the drums around till you hear what you want for the song.
4 - ORTF STEREO PAIR
This comes from the standard set by France, which stands for Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française. It involves setting up a stereo pair of cardiod mics above the drums at a 110° angle between the two mics looking down. The mics should be a matched pair and 17 cm apart from capsule to capsule. This gives a stereo image from the pickup patterns of the cardioid mics and the time difference between the arrival of sound at the capsules, but still maintains a good mono compatibility. Plus it's easy to mount to a single mic stand with a stereo mic clip above the drum kit out of the way of the drummer.
5 - XY COINCIDENT PAIR
Mono compatibility is important in stereo miking if you want your drums to retain their sound whether in stereo speakers or on a mono playback device. Mono playback happens more often than you might think.
When you are rocking out in the car you might get more of a mono sound then true stereo. When you listen back on built in computer speakers, and iPhone, or your laptop you might get more of a mono experience. Or even when you have stereo speakers but hear them from across the room or in a separate room the sound will converge into mono as it fills the space.
So if you want to get a stereo drums sound that is nearly mono already you can try using the XY coincident pair. This involves a matched pair of cardioid mics that are set at a 90º angle with the capsule as close as possible. So that a sound arriving from in front of the mics will arrive at both mics at the same time. This way there is a stereo image formed from the pickup patterns of the cardioid mics, but not from the time difference between them.
You will get a very focused image out of this, and typically more mono sounding with a subtle stereo effect. This can be great if you want the drums to have lots of focus and punch and don't really need a wide stereo image.
6 - Recorderman
This is such a cool method for recording drums! If you have a matched pair of cardioid mics, Then you can get a great stereo sound while keeping the kick drum and the snare drum in the center of your mix.
Take the first mic and place it above the rack tom and near the snare pointing down at the drum kit. And then measure from the center of the snare drum up to the capsule of the mic and back down to the kick drum beater. While holding the string on the snare and the kick drum beater rotate the apex of the triangle that you just created, with the string, over towards your right shoulder, and floor tom. When you feel you've found a good spot for the second Mike Place the second mic at the point of the triangle.
Take both microphones and pan them hard left and right in your mix. This will give you a great stereo image. However it will also keep the kick and snare dead center in your mix, and totally focused, because they are the same distance from each microphone.
(Its a little hard to see the equidistant mic placement in the image, but it gives you the general idea of what the mics might look like when you look at it from the front of the kit.)
7 - THE GLYN JOHNS TECHNIQUE
Glyn Johns is one of the greats! He recorded bands like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Who. And it was during a Led Zeppelin session that he famously discovered his mic technique.
Normally Glyn he would record the drum kit with a single overhead mic. But one day during a recording session with Led Zeppelin, the assistant unintentionally moved a second microphone out of the way of a guitar amp, and randomly placed it looking over the floor tom. The second mic was also panned over to the side because thats where the guitar amp had been panned. And when they heard both microphones in the control room with the drums in stereo, everyone flipped out at how awesome it sounded!
The technique is often explained as taking the first mic and setting it above the drums looking down exactly two drumsticks length from the center of the snare drum. But Glyn basically glossed over this detail essentially saying that his technique is pretty loose in general, and that the overhead mic can be placed pretty much where ever you like it.
Then take the second mic and come over the floor tom looking toward the snare, and kick beater. If you can manage to have both mics the same distance from the snare drum all the better! Because then as you pan the two mics out left and right, you're likely to hear the snare stay in the center image.
However the Glenn Johns technique does not typically hard pan left and right very well. In fact I find myself panning the overhead mic just slightly to the left, and the floor tom mic further to the right. That always seems to make for a pretty good stereo drum mix. Also a complete Glyn Johns technique would probably include a kick drum mic and a snare drum mic to bring those drums forward in the final mix.
7 - SPACED TRIPLE METHOD
Basically if you're room doesn't sound great in your studio, and you feel like you get too much of it in your overheads when you try to set the mics up high. Then you can use this method to get a little closer to the drums, and still cover the full drum kit.
This is a way of recording the drums that I use sometimes when I start with a mono overhead like my Coles 4038, and then discover that I still need more detail on the high hat and ride. So I will add another pair of condenser mics to the outside of the drum kit looking in. I have also seen Graham Cochran of the Recording Revolution using this method with great success, to accommodate the less than fabulous sound of a home studio drum room.
Simply take one mic and put it above the drums pointing down in the center. Then take the other two mics and put them on the left side and the right side of the kit. Pan the three mics accordingly so that the high hat is panned over on the left side, the center mic is right up the middle, and the ride mic is panned over to the right side (if you want drummer perspective). This should give you a nice stereo spread with a focused center as well.
Each of these methods above will potentially give you a very cool drum sound. And you can also get a pretty great stereo image for some of these. But you might find that you still need to add close mics to the drums to really bring out the kick snare in toms.
So don't be afraid to add a mic wherever you think you might need it if you just want to hear more of a particular drum in the final mix. Just remember to check the phase polarity on each mic as you add it to the overheads to make sure that it's not killing the punch of your drum sound, but enhancing instead.
Host of the #1 iTunes podcast - Recording Studio Rockstars
As always remember that this is MUSIC that you are making, not science. So whatever you do have fun first, and if it sounds good to you then it is good, Cheers!
Try these 8 drum miking methods for recording drums in your home studio, and you should see some awesome results. I can only cover so much in a single blog article. So if you are interested in getting much deeper into recording, editing, and mixing drums in your home studio you should check out Rockstars Of Drums.
Are you ready to take your drum recording, editing, and mixing to the next level?
Check out my pro drum course:
Learn how to record, edit, and mix pro sounding drums with Nashville session drummer Mike Radovsky and Grammy studio owner Lij Shaw.