How To Mike Percussion On Stage
Congas And Other Barrel And Conical Drums
Conga, buleador, ashiko and other similarly shaped drums all project sound in the same way: attack and tone off the head, and low-end oomph from the open end. The typical approach to miking this type of drum is to place a mike 2" to 6" above the drumhead, about 2" in from the rim opposite the player. Angle the capsule down toward the head between 45º and 90º, adjusting the angle to get the sound you want. For more low end, move the capsule closer to the drumhead and angle it downward more steeply. This will boost the lows due to proximity effect, and also pick up more shell resonance. If you wish to capture more attack, move the mike back a little and angle it more toward the center where the player’s hands contact the head. A little EQ tip: hand drums can usually benefit from a little boost in the 2 kHz to 5 kHz frequency range to bring out slap and pop. If the attack still isn’t as prominent as you would like, you could mention this to the engineer – diplomatically of course!
Oftentimes, congas are played in sets of two or three, graduating in size and pitch. The larger low drum is called the tumba, the mid-sized drum is the conga, and the highest-pitched one is called the quinto. The low-pitched tumba is best miked with a large-diaphragm dynamic with good low-frequency response like the Sennheiser MD 421, while the two smaller drums may be best complemented by smaller-diaphragm dynamics like the Shure SM57 or the hypercardioid Audix D-2.
If using separate mikes to capture each drum, make sure to angle them slightly away from each other to enhance separation (Fig. 1, above). If you have the mikes and the extra channels, and the drums are mounted on stands, you could put a mike underneath the drum, facing up into the cavity to capture more lows and resonance. Conversely, if you’re short on inputs, you could use a single mike on a pair of congas to capture the balance of the two. Simply place the mike between the drums about 4" to 6" above them and angled toward the center region between the two heads.
Bongos are played either mounted on a stand or supported between a player’s knees. The drums are commonly miked from above, with the mike positioned between the two drums and angled toward the heads at a distance between 3" to 6" away. An SM57, Sennheiser MD 421 or Audix D-1 would work well in this application. The drums can also be miked from underneath if the player is sitting down and a low-profile arrangement is necessary to keep out of the player’s way. Simply position the mike beneath the chair and angle it up at the underside of the bongos. The capsule should be 3" to 5" away from the drums and centered between the two ports (Fig. 2, left).
Like the bongos, tabla is composed of two drums and can be miked similarly from above with a single mike strategically positioned between the drums to capture a balance of the pair. Unlike the bongos, however, tabla do not have open ports at the base and they are relatively quiet, so you will need to get the mike in a bit closer – between 2" to 4". Getting enough gain before feedback could be challenging in louder situations. Using a mike with a tight pattern is the best way to go, and the hypercarioid Audix D-2 is an appropriate choice as is the tried and true SM57 with its tight cardioid pickup pattern. If there are available inputs on the console, close miking both the large and the small drums individually would better represent their different tonal qualities as well as allow for separate equalization. Place the mikes about 2" from each head, angled slightly away from each other. Adjust the angle to get the desired tone.
Goblet-Shaped Single-Headed Drums
Goblet-shaped drums come in different sizes and are constructed of different materials, from wood to metal to ceramic. The tonal qualities also vary widely, from papery crisp with sharp highs and midrange resonance to biting attack with deep low-end chutzpah. These drums also require different playing stances and techniques. But all project sound in a similar fashion, with the definition and attack coming off the head and a substantial woof escaping a good deal of pressure through the cinched port at the base. So all can be captured well with a single mike on the head, and if desired and practical, a mike at the opening to catch the low end (Fig. 3, left). Let’s take a look at two specific goblet-style drums that have differing tonal characteristics and playing techniques: The Middle Eastern dumbek is a small drum played supported on its side with an emphasis on finger finesse. And the African djembe is played more vigorously with the entire hand and is either suspended from a strap, mounted on a stand or held between the knees.
The dumbek is held between the leg and arm of a seated drummer and is played primarily with the fingers. The sound is papery, with crisp slaps and ruffs combined with a low midrange tone. Your primary mike should be positioned about 2" to 3" from the head, angled toward the center region to pick up the full range of tones coming off the head. If a richer bass sound is desired and extra inputs are available, place another mike (such as the MD 421) approximately 2" from the rear port, pointing up inside the drum. This will get the low-end doum emanating from the cavity of the drum. But listen for phase problems if you take this approach. If you do have phase cancellation, try moving the top mike further away. If this doesn’t do the trick, reverse the phase on one channel at the console or just use one mike. For a crisper, more defined sound, go with the top mike. If the music requires more of a bass-y tone, go with the bottom mike.
Djembes have a sharp attack sound, but can really put out the low end depending on the size and construction of the instrument. If the drummer likes to move around a bit, clip-on mikes are a good choice because they stay with the drum and make it easier to close mike. But if the drum is dressed with bells or rattles, this approach may not work so well. A surefire method is to place a mike 2" to 5" from the head. The angle can then be adjusted to pick up the perfect balance of highs from the edge of the head and lows from the middle. If the drum is on a stand or supported between the knees, you can opt to put a mike on the rear opening as with the dumbek to catch the extra lows and resonance. The same cautions about phase cancellation apply here.