Gear Talk: Microphones – Drums

The drumset….probably the most dynamic of the things that I mic up on a regular basis.  So many possibilities and so many ways to make mistakes. Do you use a drum shield? Overhead mics or undermic’ing? Do I need to mic everything up? What are the best mics? I’ve done everything right in terms of mic’ing and placement, why does my kit still sound sterile? Before I get into any of these questions, I’d like to say this…there is no one right answer to anything of them.  Context is everything.  What is your room size? What style of music are you playing? How talented is the player? What is your budget? How much overall mix volume do you have to play with? These and many more are all questions that need answered before you even think about what mic to use with that all important kick drum.

So lets start with that.  I’d like to go over how each of the questions I listed above should play into your decisions moving forward. There are two that go hand in hand up there, they are…What is your room size?…How much overall mix volume do you have to play with? If you are playing in a small cramped night club where your drumset is mere feet away from the audience, your mic needs will be different than if you were mixing in a grand hall where the drumset is centered up in the back of the stage 60 feet from the nearest audience member.  On top of that, if you are playing the club you have the acoustic volume to contend with as well along with the fact that 100 db in a small room is deafening to anyone. In the studio, are you looking for an acoustic drum mix where you basically want to let the drum set sound the way it sounds and just mic the kick and snare for some punch or do you want to setup in a larger room and mic the whole kit and put up a few boundary mics to record some natural verb. The style of music you are going for will also dictate what and how you mic certain drums. For instance if you are playing a jazz kit you will need a much higher dynamic range for the snare than if you were playing a rock kit. Lastly your budget often plays the largest role in how you mic your drum kit. In my humble opinion it is better to get the whole drumset mic’d up to match your style and room with cheaper mics (sm57s, clip-on sennheiser mics, etc) than to decide to start cutting corners and only end up with enough money to mic the kick and snare.

Well now that the administrative stuff is out of the way we can get down to the brass tax, how am I mic’ing up my drum kits. To be honest, this is a living breathing mix that I’m working with so my mic’ing decisions have changed and grown based on the context.  At the most basic level, for small gigs or small rooms, I’ll use a single kick mic, top snare mic, a clip-on mic for each tom, and a single overhead mic.  This gives me a 5 input drum set that sounds pretty good in a set of in-ears and gives me a lot of flexibility at FOH. At CCC, because we are set up for a bigger kit and have plenty of inputs, it looks quite a bit different. I utilize a kick in mic (just behind the beater head) and a kick out mic (in the kick drum hole), a top and bottom snare mic setup, a hi-hat mic, 3 tom mics, an under mic for the ride, two under mics for cymbals, and an overhead mic (used mostly in monitors and at FOH when I need some more space in the drum kit). All in, that was 12 inputs. It is my firm belief that it doesn’t take 12 inputs for a drum kit to sound good, but that if you are setup for it, have the budget/style/space for a bigger sound, that 12 mics will be better than 5. It is however much harder to take care of, especially in the monitor mixes.  Lot’s has to be done for the IEM system to keep this kit sounding good but we will save all of that for another post. In the past, I’ve found a great middle ground if you’d to step up to that 12 input mix but not micing the cymbals and ride individually and instead just using 2 overhead mics, going down to one kick mic (kick in) and one snare mic (snare top), that brings the total down to a very reasonable 8 inputs (7 if you only have two toms). Over the years, I have spent most of my time at this middle ground. Especially for setup/tear down events.  But not being afraid to pull it down or add if the need arises can be substantially helpful so don’t be afraid experiment to see what works best for your event, style, and room.

So we’ve talked about what we are going to mic up but I bet you are still looking for suggestions on what mics to try or use yourself…well the time has come my friend.  Here is the rundown of what Christ Community Church uses.  Over my 5 years here, this list has changed and will likely change again in near future (DPA tom mics here we come!). But this is what it is now and we continue to be very happy with this setup. The first mic is the one we are currently using and everything listed after that are options that we keep in our back pocket ready to go if we think they would be a better fit. I’ve put hyperlinks to everything in the list that point towards Amazon for reference.

Kick Out – AKG D12 (Beta91a, we occasionally decide to just double patch if we can’t get the timing of the mics to sound right), RE320, Audix D6 (great for djembes as well)Shure Beta 52a

Kick In – Beta91a (we’ve also used the Beta91, the only difference is the connector)

Snare Top – Beta57, sm57

Snare Bottom – Sennheiser e914, sm57

HiHat – KSM44, ksm109

Rack Tom – Sennheiser e604, Sennheiser e904

Floor Tom 1 – Sennheiser e904, Sennheiser e902

Floor Tom 2 – Sennheiser e904Sennheiser e902

Ride (under mic) – DPA 4098 (new model is the DPA 4099), sm57

Cymbals – Audix D2, sm57 (undermic), RodeNT4 (overhead)

OVH – KSM44 (not used if cymbals aren’t undermic’d), any old condensor microphone

That list covers just about every mic I’ve used on a drum set in the last 5 years or so.  I’ve left off things I’ve tried and didn’t like but I would really encourage everyone to experiment with different setups and mic arrangements for your space.  This is just what works for us and may not work for you. CCC has a very high production value service with worship between 89 and 95 db (usually hanging out around 92).  That style has led us to our current setup. Over the years we have gone from budget friendly options to more niche choices which is what I’d recommend for anyone because while it may take longer for you to get there, you’ll have a great selection of mics that often times will come in handy when your senior pastor asks about doing that one extra thing, you’ll already have some great mics to play around with!

The last thing I wanted to cover was what happens when you have refined your drum mic’ing technique but your drums still sound bad.  Putting aside your EQ and dynamics on the console (we will cover that later), make sure your drum set is properly taken care of.  I’d 95% of our problems with the drums when they arise have a direct link to tuning and drum head life span. If you don’t change your drum heads regularly (at CCC the batter heads get changed about twice a year, the resonant heads and such get changed as needed) than doing that will drastically improve how things sound.  It seems like such a simple thing doesn’t it but it makes so much sense.  Having trouble getting your tom sound to sustain properly, is your snare cover in little gel pads or pieces of tape, perhaps it’s time to change those heads. Here is a great pdf on how to tune drums from Pearl and here is a great video about it as well. This isn’t an advertisement for a specific drum head, the drums heads you choose should be tailored specifically to your situation. However, if you aren’t as capable to hear pitches or are going for a specific tone, check out this tune bot to help with your drum tuning.

Well that is the last post of this round of Gear Talk.  Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this new series and look forward to future segments. Over time Gear Talk will cover more than just microphones, we will go through Waves, wireless mics, soundboards, etc.  Let me know in the comments below how you mic your drum set or if you have any questions! As always, if you haven’t already subscribed just click the link down below or up at the top of the page!

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