Overhead mikes are often employed for capturing the cymbals and sometimes the overall kit sound. One mike on a small setup through a small P.A. can do the trick, though a split pair configuration is common to adequately pick up both sides of the kit. If the cymbal setup is extensive, it is not unheard of to use three microphones judiciously spaced to capture a balance of the entire spread. Condenser mikes are ideal for overheads because of their detailed high-end and natural transient response. Examples are Neumann’s KM 184, AKG’s C451 and C560, Audix’s SCX-1, Sennheiser’s e914, and Shure’s SM81 for the small diaphragm condensers, and AKG’s C414 B-ULS or C3000 B and Shure’s KSM32 on the large capsule side.
If you have only one overhead, place the mike centrally over the kit and move it around to compensate for the playing style and the kit’s characteristics (quiet ride cymbal, loud snare, lots of hi-hat, and so on). It is recommended that you keep the mikes in close – about 8" to 10" above the cymbals to minimize stage bleed. Be sure to keep the overheads out of the monitors to avoid feedback.
If the hi-hat needs more bite, place a small-diaphragm condenser mike a few inches above the hi-hats at the edge, angled at the area just below the cup and off axis from the whoosh of air that emanates from the closing cymbal edges. If the ride needs some chutzpah on the bell side of things, try placing an SM57 on the bell, about three to five inches from the cymbal, offset from the bell but angled toward it. If the space is too tight, you could try coming up underneath the cymbal, pointing the mike at the underside of the bell from about eight to ten inches away. Angle it nearly straight up to avoid snare and floor tom bleed.
Armed with this knowledge, you should have a good sense of where to begin when miking a drum set onstage. The system and the limitations of the venue’s choices will affect your decisions, but ultimately your ears will tell you what to do. While a selection of microphones has been recommended, there are many other fine mikes from various manufacturers available for the purposes listed in this article, including microphone prepacks specifically designed for drum set. Do a little research and embrace your inner gear junkie. Just remember to always use unidirectional microphones onstage and to be aware of sound system basics in order to evade common live sound problems such as trudging through swampy sonic sludge, blowing out everyone’s eyeballs with shrieking feedback, and getting all tripped out on psychedelic phase issues. While that may sound like good times, your kit sounding great is the best adventure of all.