Micing (or miking) a drum kit for kids is something that has enthralled producers and musicians for generations. How to get a good kick drum sound, how to make the snare sound rich and full, how to retain the energy of live drumming but control it in a studio environment. There are no definite answers – but some basic tips on micing a drum kit will ensure a decent result that can be tweaked to any band’s needs.
Micing A Drum Set
The tried and tested way of micing up a drum kit is to use microphones that can withstand loud explosive noises close to the drums themselves, with more sensitive mics further away from the kit to pick out the detail. The popular choice for drums generally are dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57. These will usually be placed on stands pointing at the toms, snare and sometimes the ‘pedal’ side of the kick drum. Some producers also like to give themselves more control by placing a dynamic mic on the hi-hats too.
Condenser Microphones will usually then be placed over the kit to pick up the overall sound of the drumming, including the cymbals. These are often used in stereo pairs with one either side of the kit, and then ‘panned’ left and right in the mixer to give the drum kit a stereo ‘image’ – this is so different sounds are happening in the left and right speak/headphones and the listener has a more interesting listening experience. (More on panning later)
For the kick drum, there are a range of microphones designed to pick up the low frequencies created by the drum. The kick mic is usually placed in front of, or just inside a ‘sound hole’ cut in the front skin of the drum. Sometimes the front skin can be completely removed to allow a microphone to be placed inside the drum.
If buying all the mics separately seems daunting, there are a wide range of drum mic sets available online that give a producer the basic starting mics to get a good drum sound.
Micing Individual Drums on the Kit
How to mic each individual drum is something that varies wildly but the following tips should help most people get a good basic sound that can then be tweaked for their own needs:
- Kick: There are three main ways of micing up a kick drum. The most common way is just to place a bass drum microphone in the hole on the front skin. The second way is to remove the front skin completely and place a mic just inside the hopps of the drum, facing the pedal through the rear skin, and the third way is to mic BOTH the front and rear skins, with a bass drum mic in the front, and a dynamic mic like an SM57 pointed at the drum from where the drummer is sitting.
- Toms: Toms are usually miced by clipping a drum mic to the drum with the mic pointed at the skin of the tom, or pointing an SM57 on a stand at it. If the band require a ‘ringy’, resonant sound, the mic can be angled more towards the edge of the skin, so it picks up more of the ringing soudns and less of the imapct of the stick.
- Snare: A snare is miced the same as a tom, but a second microphone can be used underneath the drum to pick up more of the ‘crack’ caused by the metal snare itself on the bottom skin.
Overhead Microphones on the Drums
Two condenser mics will usually be placed to pick up the overall sound and the crashing of the cymbals. These will usually be placed on high mic stands and pointed down at the drummer – one on the left of them, and one on the right. The amount of separation between the two depends on the type of sound the band are going for – the closer the mics are, the tighter and less ‘roomy’ the sound will become.
Panning a Drum Kit
How to pan a drum kit is another debated topic. The general rule though is to ‘space out’ the drums: The kick and snare should be central, with toms panned slightly left and right (higher toms to one side, lower toms to the other) and the overheads panned as far left and right as possible in relation to where they were on the kit. Panning the drums in a mixer can make a huge difference to the sound.
Like anything else in recording music, experimentation is key – there are still producers out there who swear the best way to mic a drum kit is to stick to two mics – one on the kick and one above. It’s all about deciding what effect the music needs, and how best to acheive it.