A drum kit is a focus piece in many musical performances. Unfortunately it can be difficult to mic optimally because of its size and complexity.
Each individual element of the kit has its own unique sound to capture, yet at the same time the proximity of the instruments creates a lot of bleed. If you want to get the most out of your drum kit you need to pick the right mics – ones that dampen off-axis sound and handle high-SPL – and position them correctly.
How close do you place a snare drum mic above the skin? Have you ever heard the sound of the drum that close? Hopefully not! Nevertheless, that is where we normally place the snare mic.
Always consider what you expect to hear as a result of where you place the microphone. A drum kit produces very high peak sound levels. Levels in excess of 120 dB at a distance of one meter and at a few cm from a drum or cymbal head 140 dB or more is not unusual. It's obvious that the microphones must be able to handle these levels without clipping, which is definitely not always the case in many recording situations. You can place a DPA mic within a few centimeters of the drumhead and experience no mic overload and benefit from the clean and transparent condenser microphone response.
The obvious DPA microphone drum kit package giving ideal value for money would basically be a blend of two types – the 2011C Cardioid Microphone, Compact
and the 4099D Instrument Microphone
- Overheads: 2011C
- Hi Hat: 2011C
- Bass Drum: 2011C
- Snare: 2011C or 4099D
- Toms: 4099D
You can use overheads just to compliment the tight mics and produce the cymbal sound for the rest of the drumkit, or one pair of strategically placed overheads can capture the entire drum kit. One can consider each cymbal and drum as a separate instrument, and close- mic these accordingly, ending up with nine or more microphones. In the multi-mic approach the final sound is often more in the hands of the recording engineer and producer than of the drummer, but nevertheless this technique is widely used. The simpler approach of using an overhead pair that "sees" the whole drum kit puts the dynamics of playing much more in the hands of the drummer.
One important and easy trick is to get the important snare drum in phase in the overhead pair by securing that the distance from the snare is the same to both overhead mics. Measure that with a microphone cable. The important consideration here is more the identical distance than the exact distance.
If the style requires the hat as a distinct component in the drum mix, and not just naturally reproduced in the overhead pair, try placing a cardioid microphone like the 2011C slightly above the cymbals (10 to 15 cm) pointing at the middle. Since the signal primarily consists of high frequencies, a low frequency roll-off could be applied in the mixing console to keep the overall sound bright and crisp. The placement will be between the hat and snare and you will have to find a placement balance point based on each drummer's technique.
More on miking hi-hat
If the bass drum has a hole in the front skin, this placement is the shortcut to controlled bass drum capture. For this application, try placing a
2011C in or by the opening and experiment a bit with positioning, angling and distance. This will yield optimum results. Angling will give less wind problems (a lot of air is moved by the bass drum). Distance will adjust the overall bass frequency response, taking advantage of the proximity effect. It all depends on the sound you wish to produce and the instrument/drummer.
Sometimes placing the mic just outside the drum gives even more impact. For jazz or folk music it’s best to find a spot outside the drum, sometimes on the kick side of the drum, if there is no hole in the front skin.
More on miking bass-drum
A snare drum may benefit from a double microphone setup, one on top and one below the drum; the upper mic will focus on the “in-your-face” punch and the lower mic on the snare high- frequency bite from below the drum. Shift polarity on one of them and blend them in desired balance.
On the other hand, one high quality cardioid mic like the
2011C placed at the rim of the upper skin is a good position. If you take notice and care with your top placement you will not find the need to place a mic on the bottom of the drum to intensify the snares. Due to its incredible resolution, it picks up all the snare sound from the top placement without the phase shift problem caused by over/under miking techniques.
It is crucial to work with the microphone angling. This is where the DPA mics excel compared to most other mics. Their off-axis sound is smooth and clean, which is why angling the mic serves as a pointing equalizer. From the rim position, point it to the center of the drum to achieve most attack/bite, point it more downwards to achieve more low frequency body.
If you want the microphone to be out of sight and are tired of fighting with placing mic stands in the jungle of drum stands, you should try the 4099D supercardioid clip microphone solution. It is easy and fast to mount and has a very punchy sound with fast attack.
More on miking snare drums
The tom-toms can be miked the same way as the snare, apart from under miking is seldom seen (the tom-toms have no snares underneath). Toms have different roles in different music styles and some considerations and genre aesthetics are appropriate. For jazz it is common and can be right not to use toms mics at all and only get the drum sound balance with accurately placed overhead mic, whereas pop and rock drum sound requires a closer miking technique to achieve very isolated toms signal to process individually.
The 4099D Instrument Microphone is a clip-on microphone solution that allows for high quality audio capture of tom-toms. The low profile and unobtrusive design provides visual elegance along with uncompromised sound quality and accurate dynamics.
The unique and flexible clip-on system provides fast, stable and repeatable positioning. The mics can be easily positioned at different angles via the flexible gooseneck to fit different drums and allow a variety of sound nuances.
More on miking tom-toms
In Microphone University we have loads of content that could be relevant to you. Learn more about how to mic various instruments in the articles below.