Recording drums is a science all in itself and no one way will be the perfect way for everyone, so as you learn over time remember that the only way to get the sound that you are looking for is to experiment.
This particular post will be based on a recording setup with 6 to 8 inputs to keep it fairly common for all studio types.
The most important thing to have when you are recording drums isn’t your collection of fancy microphones, compressors or EQ’s… It’s making sure that you have a good sounding drum set to begin with. Even the most seasoned professional sound engineer with the best studio space and top-of-the-line equipment, couldn’t make an out of tune drum set sound good.
So for the sake of your future recordings, get the set sounding good before you start recording, you won’t be disappointed. I will now talk about the specifics of each mic placement.
The bass drum has long been one of the hardest drums to get the right sound out of. The method I use depends on the sound that the client is looking for. Some people like the “thump” and some like the “hit”. Since my recordings are all done on a budget, I will keep this limited to the “1 mic” method. I use an AKG d112 Bass Drum Mic. This mic is pretty much the industry standard when it comes to recording the bass drum. You are welcome to use any kind of mic you want, just remember that the bass drum has a really low-frequency and a mic that is used for high frequencies such as condensers, etc. may not give you the “thump” or the “hit” that you want.
It seems like in my experience, I get the best “thump” sound from the bass drum if I place the mic through the sound hole and make sure the front of the mic is about half way between the two drum heads. I usually place a towel in the drum as well which helps to dampen the sound from bouncing around as well as giving you a nice surface to place your microphone.
The other method I have used regularly is the outside the drum method. This will require a mic stand. Try experimenting with all different mic placements on the front of the bass drum head. The one that works best on my studio kit is about 4 o’ clock if you were to picture the drum head as a clock face. In that position I get a about an even amount of “thump” and “hit”, which is usually what the client is looking for.
I have always heard tales of sound engineers having so much trouble getting the right snare sound, I for some reason always seem to get what I am looking for. (mostly luck I think) I use a Shure PG-5 Drum mic for the snare, but there are many other options out there.
Most good drummers will have what I like to call a “sweet spot” on the snare. This is the spot that they seem to hit most often. This will be the focal point for you microphone. You will want to start out by positioning your mic in-between the snare and high hat and at least an inch off the snare. Point the microphone towards the sweet spot and angle it down at about a 45 degree angle. You can change the angle and distance to achieve the sound you are looking for, so this is just how I do it.
I have also got a great sound out of a snare by placing the mic level to the snare and off to the left side facing the rim, but I don’t recommend starting with this method. Another thing that larger studios will do is to place a mic underneath the snare as well, what this does is give the sound engineer some options as far as mixing the snare. The top mic gets the “pop” of the stick and the bottom mic gets the “rattle” of the snares, and if mixed properly will sound absolutely amazing.
For the toms, getting the best sound will be time-consuming, they will sound great when you hit them, but getting that “thud” to come through the recording will take some time. Let’s go over the basics.
As with the bass drum , the rack tom and floor tom have a lower frequency and will require mics that can handle and project that frequency to your recordings. They will sound great when you hit them, but getting that “thud” to come through the recording will take some time.
The mic placement on the toms that I use is very similar to the Snare mic technique I talked about above. Start out by placing the mic about 1 inch off the head and at the same 45 degree angle toward the “sweet spot” on the drum head. This will be the best starting point. From here, just play with moving the mic farther away, and the angle of attack to achieve the desired sound.
I have long been a fan of having an extra track just for the hi-hat. You can get a great hi-hat sound from just a single overhead mic (which I will cover in a few minutes) but having the extra mic just on the hi-hat will make the overall perfect drum mix that much easier to achieve.
I use a low-grade studio condenser mic to record the hi-hat. I place the mic facing towards the outer edge of the hi-hats, as I have found in my many years that is gets a nice representation of the “sizzle” that I want when mixing the drum track. The mic is usually placed about 1 or 2 inches off the edge of the cymbals and is pointed away from the snare/tom to avoid as much bleed-through as I can.
You are always going to get some bleeding between mics so the best thing to do is try hard to minimize that by always being considerate of the other mics when doing your mic placement.
The last thing I will talk about will be the Overhead Mic. This will be the one that requires the most time invested but when you find the right placement, it will all be worth it.
There are a hundred different ways to place the overhead mics, I will be talking about the “1 mic” method.
I have generally found that I get the best “overhead” drum sound when I place the mic about 4 feet over the drum set with the mic placed towards the front of the set just above the front edge of the bass drum. it seems to get a nice mix of the cymbals (ride, crashes and hi-hat) while still giving me a little bit of the drum set as well. You will NEVER be able to record cymbals without having the drums bleed through. It’s a fact of life and you will need that “room” sound later when you go to mix your drum track, so don’t worry if all you hear is the whole drum set and cymbals in your overhead mic.
Another popular method is to place the overhead mic about 4 feet above the set behind the drummers right shoulder facing the snare drum. The best way to insure proper placement is to get a bit of string and measure the distance from the mic to snare drum and the mic to the bass drum beater. This should be the same distance. It is not the best sounding method but if you have limited inputs and need a good “overhead” drum image, it is a pretty good method to try.
Well I hope in reading this that I have at least given you some starting points, as I said before, the only way to get the sounds that you are looking for is to experiment, experiment, experiment. Then when you are finished with that… experiment some more.
Good luck and remember you can always contact me with any questions or concerns about your unique situation at:
Thanks for reading.