August 26, 2022
It’s become common for engineers recording drums to take a more is more approach, miking up every single element for pinpoint control of every element. But this isn’t always possible, and it’s not always the best way to get a great drum sound, as too many inputs can be overwhelming, create phase issues, and get generally muddy and unwieldy.
So, here we’ll talk about a few ways to mic up a drum kit with very few microphones.
First things first – in order to capture a great drum sound with minimal miking, you’ll need to work at getting the kit sounding great in the room. This means tuning the drums and manipulating the room’s acoustic treatment, as well as experimenting to find the best place in the room for the kit. A quick tip to home in on this location is to take a floor tom to different spots while hitting a bit to see how it sounds. Don’t forget to use gels and dampening if necessary to get the amount of ring you want, and keep the drums tight, tuned, and free of extraneous noise.
One of the best ways to wrap your head around minimal drum miking is to think of the kit as one instrument, rather than a collection of multiple drums. This thinking can point you in the right direction, but rather than leave it at that, let’s cover a few standard one-mic placements.
Using a ribbon or large diaphragm condenser, place the mic just above the kick drum (below the ride). An omni directional pickup pattern is best here. Try to position the mic roughly equidistant between the floor tom and rack tom(s) and the center of the snare. The idea here is to capture a balanced picture of the kit, and you can tweak the placement to adjust the balance. With minimal processing and a great sounding room/kit combo, this set up can yield shocking results. Even if you don’t have an omni-directional condenser or ribbon, a simple dynamic mic can surprise you too.
Another fairly common one mic technique is the drummer’s perspective. This involves using a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic placed somewhere around the drummer’s ear level. This method will yield a sound with more of the room in it and is sometimes paired with the above method for a two- mic setup. A cardioid pattern is probably best in this situation but depending on the room and placement of the kit, omni directional might work too.
Often, a condenser or ribbon placed anywhere from 2 to 6 feet in front of the kit, about the height of the center of the kit (so just higher than the kick in most scenarios) can yield a great result, especially if you’re looking for more of a roomy sound such as with a jazz kit, where the kick drum sound doesn’t need to be in your face. This technique may take a little experimenting to find the right spot in the room but can work great in the right space.
One-mic setups can work well, but it’s admittedly more common to see two-mic drum setups when minimalism is on the menu. The main thing to consider when deciding on your two-mic setup is whether you’re trying to capture a stereo image (aka you plan to spread the two mics left/right in the mix) or enhance a one mic by using another to get another perspective. Or both! There are a ton of widely used ways to mic up a drum kit with two mics.
The Glyn Johns method was accidentally discovered in the studio when Glyn was working with limited resources and has become a go-to method heard on many a legendary record. It uses two cardioid condensers, one positioned around 5 or 6 feet high, directly over and pointed down at the center of the snare. The other is placed around 3 or 4 feet high off to the side of the floor tom, pointing back across the kit toward the center of the snare. The key here is to get each mic the same distance from the center of the snare so that sound arrives at both mics simultaneously. In the mix, spread one mic a little to one side and one a little farther to the other side and adjust to taste.
The Recorderman method is a take-off on the Glyn Johns method. The top mic is similar to in the Glyn Johns method, but a bit lower – closer to the kit. Instead of placing the other mic near the floor tom, place it as you would in the “drummer’s perspective” technique above. You can try this method as a mono method or with some stereo spread to taste.
The Eric Valentine method may or may not have been invented by Mr. Valentine, but he’s fond of it at least. This technique is a mono technique consisting of one ribbon mic and once condenser. The ribbon is placed in front of the kit, about heart height, varying distances (try about 3 feet to start), pointed at the snare. The condenser is placed in the room, somewhere where bass response is heavy – a corner is often perfect. This room mic is just for lows, so low pass it at around 100Hz to achieve a nice kick drum boom. This technique may require masterful drumming, as hitting the cymbals too hard can mess the balance up, and some careful EQ and compression in the mix may be necessary to make it all come together, but it can be a great technique when you have limited space.
Another mono method, invented by Sound On Sound author Neil Rogers, makes another change to the Glyns Johns method. Mic one, the top mic, is a cardioid condenser placed above the kit 5 to 6 feet as in the Glyn Johns technique, but central to the kit rather than the snare. Mic two is a ribbon mic with a figure 8 pattern, placed between the two rack toms (if there are two), capturing each equally. This setup works well on its own for many tracks or can be part of a bigger setup.
Finally, the Daptone method, used by Gabriel Roth of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Amy Winehouse fame, consists of using two mics down low – say a foot to a foot and a half high – pointed at the snare/kick combo. Often, this is done with two different types of mics placed basically in the same spot – a ribbon and a condenser, for example. This is also a mono method and combinable with other mics to make a larger arrangement.
These are by no means the only possible arrangements. In fact, with two mic setups, you can try combining any of the one mic setups, and you can pair two mic setups with an extra mic or two in a variety of locations for three and four mic setups. The key to success is to listen carefully, and of course a great room and a masterful musician go a long way toward getting a great sound. You may not want to go minimal for every recording, but it can be super inspiring to try a paired down setup. And of course, if you don’t have tons of mics or channels, one of these methods might be just want you need to get a great recording.
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