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Drum recording

Description and application microphone techniques for recording drums.

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The conventional setup is one mic per drum, a mic for the hihat perhaps, and two overhead mics for the cymbals. Recording drums is an art form and experience is by far the best guide. There are some points to bear in mind:

  • You can’t get a good recording of a poor kit, particularly cymbals, or a kit that isn’t well set up. It is often necessary to damp the drums by taping material to the edge of the drum head to get a shorter, more controlled sound.
  • The mics have to be placed where the drummer won’t hit them, or the stands.
  • Dynamic mics generally sound better for drums, capacitor mics for cymbals.
  • The kick drum should have its front head removed, or there should be a large hole cut out so that a damping blanket can be placed inside. Otherwise it will sound more like a military bass drum than the dull thud that we are used to. The choice of beater – hard or soft - is important, as is the position of the kick drum mic either just outside, or some distance inside the drum.
  • The snares on the underside of the snare drum may rattle when other drums are being played. Careful adjustment of the tension of the snares is necessary, and perhaps even a little damping.
  • Microphones should be spaced as far apart from each other as possible and directed away from other drums. Every little bit helps as the combination of two mics picking up the same drum from different distances leads to cancellation of groups of frequencies. The brute force technique is to use a noise gate on every microphone channel, and this is commonly done.
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By David Mellor Saturday April 19, 2003
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