Covering All Angles: Studio Percussion Miking Seminar
A timbale setup often includes two timbale drums, a bell/block cluster, and a cymbal, and can be miked with a single microphone, or three of four, depending on the number of inputs and the sound you’re going for. A single, well-placed condenser overhead and slightly in front of the setup can capture the entire setup. Use a cardioid pattern if the timbales are being played in an ensemble setting, but if isolation is not a concern, try a figure-eight or omnidirectional pickup pattern to get some of the room reflections. A stereo pair of condensers in an XY array, placed about 18"—24" above the bell/block cluster will capture a good stereo image of the kit. You could also try a spaced pair of condensers or omnidirectional microphones about 12"—18" from the front of each drum, spaced about three feet apart. For a more focused sound, try close miking the drums with dynamic mikes, placing them about 3" from each drum and angled toward the head. You could also try small-diaphragm condensers about 1' in front of each timbale, angled slightly toward the head to pick up both the side sticking and the attack on the head. One or two overhead condensers can be used to capture the bell/block cluster and the cymbal (Fig. 3).
A tabla setup can be miked with a single microphone placed between and above the two drums. Position the mike to capture the best blend. Two mikes, one on the larger and one on the smaller drum, can better work to capture their individual characteristics for mixing and processing options later on.
These large kettle drums emit a wide spectrum of sounds, from intense low-end rumble to bombastically loud transients. They sound best when miked from a distance of 18" or so over the top of the drum with a large-diaphragm condenser. Timpani are usually played in sets of two to four, and a single mike can be used to capture a pair of drums. Place the mike between the two drums to get a balance of both.
Miking Drums With Two Heads
Double-headed drums can be cylindrical, hour-glass shaped, or barrel-like and tapered on one end so that one head is smaller than the other. For the tapered drums, such as the bata and dholak, both heads are usually miked because each elicits a different voice. But other drums, such as the surdo and talking drum, could get away with a single mike to capture their sound.
The Cuban bata have an asymmetrical-hourglass shape, with one end possessing a smaller diameter than the other. They are traditionally played in a trio of progressive sizes, from smallest to largest: the okonkolo, the itotele, and the iya. Each of these drums has two distinct voices of different pitch due to the two sizes of heads. Use a large-diaphragm dynamic mike designed for low-frequency sources on the larger heads of the iya and itotele, and a small-diaphragm dynamic mike on the smaller heads. Place the microphones about 3"—5" from the head at the edge of the drum and angle toward the head (Fig. 4). For the higher pitched head on the smallest drum, try pointing the mike more toward the center. Other asymmetrical two-headed drums, such as the barrel-shaped dholak from India, can be approached the same way when setting up mikes.
The surdo is like a big floor tom with a deep, resonant sound. It can be miked similarly to a floor tom, with a large-diaphragm dynamic or condenser placed about 1"—2" in from the rim, angled toward the center of the head to capture the low end.
A large- or small-diaphragm dynamic microphone placed relatively close to the front of the drum and angled toward the head will pick up the stick attack. The mike needs to be positioned so that the player can move freely. If you have the tracks, placing a mike at the back head, flipped out of phase, can add dimension to the sound.
Miking Things With No Heads
Idiophones abound, and for a percussionist, almost any found object qualifies. There are loads of delicious official percussion instruments of this distinction — far too many to cover here — but let’s take a look at a few examples to get the creative miking juices flowing:
The cajon is a wooden box with a port at the back. A player sits on the box and plays it like a hand drum. This instrument is typically miked like a kick drum, with a transducer designed specifically for low-frequency instruments placed at the sound hole on the back of the cajon, pointing toward the inside of the playing surface. For more attack, a small-diaphragm dynamic or condenser microphone can be placed in front, off to the side and angled toward the playing surface at a distance of about 6" (Fig. 5).