Covering All Angles: Studio Percussion Miking Seminar
Miking Drums With One Head
Depending on the instrument and the playing style, a single-headed drum can be miked with a single transducer above the top head, with a mike underneath at the port, or both. For groups of drums, a single or stereo mike setup can capture the lot. It all depends on what you’re going for sonically and any limitations imposed by the number of inputs available and the sound of the space. Let’s look at a few common, basic forms of single-headed drums.
Frame drums such as the Irish bodhran, the African tar, or Native American drums tend to have a lot of low-frequency content, so are best miked with a punchy large-diaphragm dynamic mike designed to accentuate the bass or a large-diaphragm condenser that has a high SPL-handling capability. Place the mike between 6"—18" from the rim, just off to the side, either behind the drum, or to capture more attack, from the front of the drum. Just be sure not to get in the way of the player if you opt for the frontmiking technique. If the low end is too boomy or muddy, employ a bass roll off, either at the mike if it features one, or at the console. Smaller frame drums and tambourines, like the riq or kanjira, can be miked similarly with a small- diaphragm dynamic or condenser to capture the subtleties of the zils and the bright attack.
To capture the djembe, start with a mike positioned between 2"—5" from and angled toward the head to pick up the attack and tone. Adjust the angle to get a good balance of the highs from the edge and lows from the middle. To capture prodigious low end, try suspending an omni condenser mike just above and angled straight toward the floor, around a foot and a half from the drum (Fig. 1). You can ply this technique to take advantage of the low end from any similar single-headed hand drum.
Dumbeks, which are usually held under the arm with the rim resting on the leg of the player, can be recorded with one or two mikes. Place a mike near the edge rim, about 2"—3" from the head and angled toward the center to get a balance of the tones and attack from the head. To add fullness and depth to the sound, you could opt for a second mike at the port, positioned a couple of inches below the opening to capture the boom emanating from the cavity. Remember to flip the phase on the bottom mike.
Congas are typically played in groups of two or three drums differing in diameter and pitch. The tumba is the largest and lowest of the three, the conga the mid-sized drum, and the quinto the smallest. A single mike could be used to capture two drums when placed between them, or a stereo pair of condensers in a coincident XY pattern placed about 1'—2' back from the drums, above the rim and angled at 45 degrees toward the heads to pick up a balance of the two drums (Fig. 2). For a tighter sound, place the mikes closer. For a roomier sound, back the mikes up about 10" or so. Each drum can be miked individually for a more powerful, deeper sound. It’s best to use a large-diaphragm mike for the tumba to accentuate its low-end oomph, but the conga and the quinto are best miked with a small-diaphragm dynamic with a midrange-presence peak. Place the mike above the drum, opposite the player, so that it is about 2" in from the rim and between 2"—6" from the head. For more attack, angle the mike toward the center of the head. For greater separation, angle the mikes away from each other so that each focuses more on its own drum. To pick up more low end, the drums can be miked from underneath. If the congas are resting on the floor, you can place a large-diaphragm condenser between the drums, a few inches from the shells. Angle the mike toward the floor at a height between 1"—4" (Fig. 2). This approach should net some pretty sweet lows. If the drums are stand-mounted you could place a large-diaphragm dynamic about 3"—4" from the port of the drums facing up at the cavity.
Bongos are either mounted on a stand or suspended between a seated player’s knees. You can mike the drums from above with one mike, such as the Shure SM57, positioned between the two drums between 3"—10" back and angled at the heads. The bongos can also be miked from underneath with a single dynamic microphone angled toward the cavities at a distance between 5"—10". The advantage of the latter approach is more freedom of movement for the player. You may also opt to use one mike for each drum for dramatic stereo effect options during mix down. A brighter, more vibrant bongo sound can be achieved by recording in a live-sounding room and using a large-diaphragm condenser positioned about 6" from the heads.