Recording acoustic drums can be a challenging task, but the effort is well worth it when it comes to achieving a great sounding record. If the music you’re working on calls for live drums, but you’ve never recorded drums before, or you’re just looking to improve your drum recordings, we’ll be breaking down the steps you need to take to get great drum sounds! We’ll also explain the why behind the mic technique, so you’ll better understand the principles behind drum recording.
The drums form the backbone of any music production, and capturing their energy, depth, and dynamics adds a crucial element to the overall sound. In this article, we will guide you through the essentials of drum recording, from preparation to microphone selection and placement, helping you lay the foundation for a stellar drum sound.
Before You Start Recording
Before you even press record, it’s important to pay attention to a few crucial factors that can significantly impact your drum recording. First and foremost, tuning the drums properly is essential. Well-tuned drums not only sound better but also make the mixing process easier. Spend some time tuning each drumhead to achieve a balanced and pleasing tone.
Additionally, dynamics play a vital role in drum recording. Instructing the drummer to hit the shells hard allows you to capture the authentic tone and resonance of the drums. If the song doesn’t call for loud drums, then maybe suggest the drummer relax. However, it’s important to emphasize the need for controlled cymbal hits. Slamming on the cymbals excessively can cause bleed and interfere with the overall drum sound. Consider raising the cymbals’ height to reduce the risk of excessive cymbal bleeding into the drum microphones.
Mic Selection and Placement
Let’s go over what’s considered the “standard” method of recording the drum kit, which involves close miking the shells, and then using overhead and room mics to capture the cymbals and overall drum sound in the room.
Mic Technique and Placement: To capture the full range of the kick drum, use two microphones: one inside the drum and one outside.
- Inside mic placement: Insert a dynamic microphone, such as the Shure Beta 52A, AKG D112, or Audix D6, through a hole in the front drumhead, close to the beater impact point. This captures the low-end thump and resonance of the drum.
- Outside mic placement: Position a large-diaphragm dynamic or condenser microphone, like the AKG D12VR, Audix D4, or Neumann U47 FET, a few inches away from the front drumhead. Aim it towards the center of the drumhead to capture the beater attack and overall sound.
Logic behind the placement: Placing a microphone inside the kick drum captures the direct sound of the drum and emphasizes the low-end frequencies. An outside microphone captures the attack and resonance of the beater hitting the drumhead, providing additional definition to the kick sound.
Mic Technique and Placement: The snare drum is the centerpiece of the drum kit and requires careful mic placement.
- Top mic placement: Position a dynamic microphone, such as the Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD 421, or Audix i5, slightly above the rim, pointing towards the center of the drumhead. This captures the snare’s attack and body.
- Bottom mic placement: Invert the polarity of a second microphone placed underneath the snare drum. This captures the snare’s sizzle and adds depth to the sound. Use a dynamic microphone like the Sennheiser e604, Audio-Technica ATM350, or Shure Beta 98AMP for this purpose.
Logic behind the placement: Placing a microphone above the snare drum captures the main sound source, emphasizing the attack and body. Adding a bottom microphone with inverted polarity captures the snare wire vibrations, providing additional tonal depth and complexity.
Mic Technique and Placement: Toms contribute to the overall groove and fill out the mid-range frequencies of the drum sound.
- Close mic placement: Position dynamic microphones, such as the EV ND44, Sennheiser e604, Audix D4, or Shure Beta 98AMP, near the rim of each tom, pointing towards the center of the drumhead. Adjust the placement to achieve a balanced sound across all toms.
Logic behind the placement: Placing microphones close to the toms captures their individual sound characteristics and helps isolate them from other drum components, allowing for greater control during mixing.
Mic Technique and Placement: Overhead microphones capture the cymbals’ shimmer and the overall ambience of the drum kit. They can be used solely for recording the cymbals or to capture the entire drum kit’s sound.
- Cymbal-focused overheads: Position a pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones, like the AKG C451, Neumann KM184, Audio-Technica AT4050, or Shure SM-81s above the cymbals, angled downwards to capture their sound predominantly.
- Full kit overheads: Place large-diaphragm condenser microphones, such as the Neumann U87, AKG C414, or Audio-Technica AT4047, higher above the drum kit, aiming towards the center of the drum set. This captures a more balanced representation of the entire kit, including the cymbals.
Logic behind the placement: Cymbal-focused overheads prioritize capturing the cymbals’ sound and intricacies. Full kit overheads provide a broader representation of the drum kit, capturing the overall balance and ambience.
Mic Technique and Placement: Room mics add depth and natural ambience to your drum recording, enhancing the overall sound during mixing.
- Placement: Position large-diaphragm condenser or ribbon microphones strategically around the room, a few feet away from the drum kit, at varying heights and distances. Experiment with placement to capture the desired room ambiance.
Logic behind the placement: Room mics capture the sound of the room, adding depth and a sense of space to the drum recording. Placing microphones at different distances and heights captures the unique room characteristics and allows for creative control during the mixing stage.
Here are some microphone suggestions for drum recording:
If you want to save money and get everything you need in one purchase, go with a drum mic pack! If not, there are lots of options to consider, but we’ve compiled our favorite premium drum mics in this list.
Other Drum Recording Methods
The 4-Mic Method
If you’ve got a limited selection of microphones, or only have a few channels to work with, the 4-mic method is a great way to get a solid drum sound with limited resources.
Your four mics will be a kick drum mic, a snare mic, and two overheads. Position the kick mic slightly off center to capture both the drum and the beater. Position the snare mic off to the side of the snare, pointing to where the stick makes contact with the drum head. Lastly, position your overheads slightly more towards the center of the drum kit, allowing you to capture more of the toms than normal, panning them hard left and right. This will allow you to capture the vibe of the drum kit, as well as the kick and snare, with just four microphones!
The Glyn Johns Method
The Glyn Johns drum recording method is a popular technique that offers a simple and effective way to capture the essence of a drum kit using minimal microphones. Developed by renowned producer and engineer Glyn Johns, this method focuses on achieving a natural and balanced drum sound with a sense of depth and space.
The technique involves the use of three or four microphones strategically placed around the drum kit. The first microphone is positioned directly above the snare drum, pointing towards the center of the drumhead. The second microphone is placed slightly outside the floor tom, aimed towards the snare drum. The third microphone is positioned near the hi-hat, angled towards the snare drum, and the fourth microphone is placed at a distance in front of the drum kit, capturing the overall sound and room ambience. If you are only using three mics, just use the kick, overhead, and side-tom mic.
The logic behind this placement is to capture the individual drums while allowing the overhead microphones to pick up the overall balance of the kit. By using fewer microphones, the Glyn Johns method minimizes phase issues and provides a more natural representation of the drum sound. It allows for greater control during the mixing process, as each microphone captures a distinct element of the drum kit.
While the Glyn Johns method is straightforward, it requires careful experimentation with microphone placement to achieve the desired balance and sound. With practice, this technique can yield impressive results, providing a solid foundation for drum recordings in various music genres.
If you’re not sure how to set it up, follow along with the man himself in this video.
Or watch this video that only uses three mics.
Recording drums may seem daunting at first, but with the right approach and techniques, you can capture the energy and essence of the instrument. Remember to start with well-tuned drums and guide the drummer to play with dynamics in mind. Choose the appropriate microphones for each drum component, ensuring proper placement to capture the desired sound accurately. Whether it’s the thunderous kick drum, snappy snare, resonating toms, shimmering cymbals, or the overall room ambiance, careful drum recording techniques will contribute to a truly great sounding record.