Tech Tips: How To Mike Drums Onstage Like A Pro
For metals and percussion toys such as cymbals, bells, and blocks, small-diaphragm directional condensers and some large diaphragm models succeed in picking up high-end detail and shimmer due to their sensitivity. Good examples of these mikes include the Shure’s SM81, Audix’s SCX-1, Oktava’s MC012, AKG’s 451, Sennheiser’s e914, or Neumann’s KM184 for the small capsule versions; and for the large, Shure’s KSM32 and AKG’s C414 B-ULS are common choices.
It all begins with a punchy bass drum sound with a lot of beefy low end. To enhance this essential driving force, you could opt for one or two mikes. Quite a few are designed specifically for bass drums, including the AKG D112, Shure Beta 52, Audix D6, and Sennheiser e902. Other mikes such as the Sennheiser MD421 or ElectroVoice RE20 are viable choices. A couple of unusual options include Earthworks’ TC25 small diaphragm condenser with the Kickpad attachment and Audio-Technica’s AT2500 dual capsule microphone that features both condenser and dynamic elements. Each mike will do its best to capture the lows and offer enough detail for the kick to stand out. But where to put the mike you choose?
Usually a bass drum will have a hole in the front head. If you go with one mike, start with the mike about 2" to 3" inside the port, pointing toward the beater. For more attack, move the mike closer inside by increments and aim it directly at the beater. For a fuller, rounder sound with less attack, draw the mike back a bit farther and angle it slightly away from the beater. If you have a bass drum with no hole in the front head, start with the mike about 2" to 4" in from the rim and point it at the head, adjusting the angle to get the desired sound. Have someone play the bass drum: Listen up close to find the spot where it sounds the way you like, and put the mike there. Refrain from placing the mike at the very center of the drum – that’s the fwappy dead spot.
If you want to go to town, you could opt for the old boundary- microphone-inside-the-drum trick to catch the click of the beater and more definition and punch. Shure’s SM91 and Sennheiser’s e901 are great to this end. Put the mike inside the drum on the padding, pointing at the beater head. Pull the outside mike back a bit to capture the resonating frequencies and mix this with the sensitive boundary microphone for a well-rounded, defined, and punchy bass drum sound.
What do you want from a snare drum? A fat but crisp sound of course! It could be perky, could be thick, but always the detail and body should be represented. The ubiquitous Shure SM57 is the workhorse for capturing this essence for many venues, but the Audix i-5 is a smashing choice as well. Shure’s Beta 58, ElectroVoice’s 408, Sennheiser’s e905, and other such dynamics can also sound very good on snare. The clip-on minicondensers such as Sennheiser’s e908, Shure’s Beta 98, and Audix’s micro-D can work really well – especially for capturing extra detail and crispness. Place the mike at about 11 o’clock from the player’s perspective, between the hi-hat and the rack tom, about two fingers in from the rim and about 2" or so above the head and angled toward it. For more lows, point the capsule more toward the head to take advantage of proximity effect; for a crisper attack, move the mike slightly farther from the head and point it more toward the center of the drum.
Usually one mike is sufficient to capture the sound coming off the head, but if you want to get some extra sizzle from the strainer and you have an open channel, you can position an additional mike on the bottom head, about 2" from and pointing up at the wires, angled at about 45 degrees. Use a dynamic that has a lot of high end, such as Beyer-Dynamics’ 201. You may need to flip the phase on the bottom head if you find that your drum sounds hollow and weird in the speakers when the two mikes are mixed together. Phase cancellation can be a problem when using two mikes on one source. If flipping the phase at the console is not an option and you’re experiencing comb filtering, then ditch the bottom mike and stick with the top one.
Miking toms can pose a challenge if the setup is tight and access is stymied by a forest of cymbals and stands. The option of the aforementioned clip-on condensers (I’m a fan of Shure’s Beta 98 – tight and punchy) as well as mike-mounting clamps for low-profile dynamics offers a convenient solution for fastening tom mikes in place and neatly out of the way. Good tom mikes include the Sennheiser e604 and E904, the Audix D2 on the smaller side, and the Shure SM57 and Beta 57. The Sennheiser MD421 is a favorite on floor toms for its low-end response. Some engineers like to use a kick drum mike, such as AKG’s D112 or Audix’s D4 or D6, on the floor tom for extra low-end oomph.
Place the mike about 2" above the drumhead, about two inches in from the rim opposite the player. Angle the capsule down toward the head between 45 and 90 degrees, adjusting the angle to get the sound you want. For greater 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 stick contacts the head.
If using separate mikes to capture each drum, make sure to angle them slightly away from each other to enhance separation. If you’re short on inputs, you could use a single mike on a pair rack toms to capture the balance of the two. Simply place the mike between the drums about 3" to 4" above them and angled toward the center region between the two heads to capture a blend of the two.