HOW TO: Mic up a drum kit
Arguably one of the most important instruments in a band is the drum kit, and choosing the best mics and positions for them can be a matter of trial and error, experimentation and taste! This basic how-to will focus on selecting microphones for predominantly live use, and will show you the ideal positions for them.
This article focusses on large event scenarios where we would typically mic the full drum kit, at the end of the article we’ll also discuss briefly what we might do in smaller setups where we do not have such large channel counts available to us.
In order to get good definition from each drum in the context of a full and lively band mix, we often use multiple microphones on the kit. This is known as ‘close mic’ technique, where there is a mic (or sometimes two mics) assigned to each drum, and some condensers covering the metalwork of the kit – the cymbals and hats. This allows us to attempt to isolate the sound of each drum, giving us more finite control on the desk of gating, EQ, compression and reverb. It helps us get a better level from the entire kit instead of trying to drive some overheads a lot harder, and by choosing specific microphones we can accentuate the low end and the attack of drums like the kick drum.
Kick & Snare
The most important drums to get sounding good are the kick and snare as these are the fundamental, underlying sounds to the kit that are constant throughout. Tom fills may come and go, but these two remain constant! Both are critical for timing but also give the low end punch and top end click that helps keep rhythm. When possible, we use two microphones on both of these drums: Kick in and out; Snare top and bottom.
There are several reasons to this. For example, placing a pressure-zone mic (PZM, or boundary mic) inside the kick drum allows you to accentuate the click of the beater hitting the skin, typically found between 2kHz and 6kHz (or even higher!) and the kick out mic is a large diaphragm dynamic mic that receives a massive hit of air from the hole in the kick drum – giving that low end punch that drives many mixes. Some people like to blend the two – by high passing the kick in mic to focus on the ‘click’, and accentuating the low end of the kick out mic (e.g. sub 80Hz), we can blend the two to get the ideal kick drum sound. You may find one mic on its own has a nicer sound and provides a tonally balanced, ideal sound of the kick drum – in that case, go with just that one mic!
Recommended kick in microphones: Shure Beta91A, Beta91, Sennheiser e901
Recommended kick out microphones: Audix D6, Shure Beta52, Yamaha Subkick, AKG D12,Sennehiser E902
On the snare, we use top and bottom. This allows us to get the crack of the stick hitting the skin through the top mic, but also pick up the rattles of the snares themselves and resonance of the body from the bottom mic. Again, by blending the two, we can achieve a rounded snare sound.
Recommended snare microphones: Shure SM57, Beta57A, Beta56A, Beta98, Sennheiser MD421 (top), E906 (bottom), Beyer M201
It’s important when using two microphones on the same source that they are in phase. Commonly, people use the phase reverse switch (often denoted with a ‘ø’ symbol) to flip the polarity of one of the mics to see if the summed result is better than before. This is because if two microphones pick up a very similar sound, with one of opposite polarity to the other, it will nearly completely cancel, leaving some artefacts remaining. More advanced techniques include accurately delaying one of the microphones to be nearly completely phase coherent to the original mic.
For hi-hat, a small pencil condenser mounted ideally above the hats facing down allows you to pick up the ring of the hats easily. Don’t mic from the side as you will end up with a rush of air as the hats open and close, muffling the sound and creating artificial low-mid noises.
Recommended hi-hat mics: AKG C451B, Shure KSM137, Røde NT5, Neumann 184, Audio Technica AT3031, sE1a, sE5
Toms require close mic-ing because it allows you to better isolate the hit of the drum, which is useful for gating it. Often these are mics with built in clamps that attach to the rim of the drum and face down toward the skin, allowing you to adjust height, angle and also come with a cable clip. Try and angle them so the null point in the rejection plane is angled toward the nearest cymbal or other tom, so you can cancel out unwanted sounds.
Recommended tom mics: Sennehiser e604, e904, Shure Beta56, Beta89, DPA 4099, Audix D2, D4, D6
Overheads are used primarily to pick up the splash of the cymbals, but can also be used to add some of natural sound of the entire kit in such as tom fills and some bleed form the kick and snare.They are usually placed high above the kit, with a L and R mic – spaced pair. You can also experiment with stereo placement, such as an XY pair (coincident pair), ORTF, NOS, and A-B (spaced pair).
Recommended overhead mics: Neumann 184, 185, AKG C414, AKG C451, C568 (shotgun for more cymbal pick up), C391, Shure SM81, KSM137, KSM32, Audio Technica 3031, 4033, AE3000, sE1a, sE5, Røde NT5
Keeping it Tidy
From an aesthetic point of view, using clamps wherever possible helps keep the number of mic stands down to a minimum, allowing more space around drums. Using looms and cable clips/wrapping the cable neatly around the stand makes the mics much more discreet too. Keep mic stands and clamps a few centimetres away from drums to avoid any mechanical noise from drums if they touch the stands, and also make sure the mics won’t be hit by the drummer if he/she is an enthusiastic player! Hopefully this short and simple how-to will have helped you to understand better the need for a close-mic’d drum kit and why we use certain microphones. Don’t forget, you can hire these mics out from us – feel free to get in touch! SFL also run training days – find out more on our training pages.
The recommendations above presume we are in a large event scenario where we have the mics and channel count available to fully mic the entire drum kit, but sometimes for smaller events this is not practical. What is the best approach in these scenarios? If you only have a few channels available for the drum kit it is always best to focus first on those elements which are musically most important: the kick and the snare. In smaller venues with a limited channel count simply mic-ing up these two drums will often be sufficient, whilst you might not be able to capture perfectly every little detail and flourish around the toms and cymbals you will be able to ensure that the core rhythmic function of the drum kit is carried clearly throughout the venue. In order the reduce the number of mics/channels needed it is also quite common to sacrifice the double mics on the kick and snare – just bear in mind that you are now asking a single mic to capture the full sound of each of these drums so this may impact your choice of microphone. Where slightly larger channel counts are available next add the hi-hats and then either the toms or the overheads. In smaller venues we would often give preference to the toms over the overheads as the cymbals will usually carry themselves quite clearly without mic-ing, in larger venues the overheads would be of more use in order to ensure a balanced drum mix is possible through the system (though once we get to venues of this size it is less likely we would not be fully mic-ing the whole drum kit anyway).