3 Handy Drum Miking Secrets

1. A Snare With More Bite Than Bark
Say you want your snare to really shine through the dense wash of amplified instruments on stage. You can stick a mike on it, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll capture the sound you want from your drum. If you’re looking for that defined thwack necessary to cut through a live mix you’ll have to do a bit of finagling with mike placement.

First, start with the right mike: a unidirectional dynamic like the Shure SM57 is an excellent choice, but other similar mikes are readily available from manufacturers such as ElectroVoice, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Audix, just to name a few. You may also choose miniature clip-on condensers such as Shure’s Beta 98 and Audix’s Micro-D.

The trick to enhance definition is in the angle. Pointing the capsule straight down at the head from the rim of the drum would capture a lot of tone and proximity effect (a low end boost common with directional mikes placed close to a sound source). If you’re looking for more attack, position the mike about an inch or two above the edge of the rim and aim the business end out across the drum, angled toward the center of the head where the stick meets the skin. This will give you plenty of crisp attack to compete with that Mesa Boogie.

2. Bell Defined Ride
Fellow drummer and live sound engineer Hani Gadallah shared this little trick with me: To get a more clearly defined bell sound from the ride cymbal in a loud situation, place an SM57 about 6" to 8" above and angled toward the bell, out of the way of the sticks and other cymbals. If you can’t get around the cymbals on the topside, don’t be afraid to sneak that dynamic mike up underneath the ride. If choosing the latter approach, place the mike even closer: about 4" from the bell area.

Keep in mind that you may need to tone down the frequency range between 550Hz and 800Hz with EQ to cinch up the sound a bit if you’re capturing the underside bell tone. This technique would be in addition to overhead miking in a larger venue. If the phase coherency is off between the bell mike and the overheads, try flipping the phase of the bell mike at the console.

3. Two Channel Strategy
If there are only two available inputs on the console, here are some suggestions for maximizing your sound. For most styles of music, the bass drum is a key driving force, so one of those inputs should be dedicated to the kick drum mike. Choose a mike designed for low frequency, high SPL applications, such as Shure’s Beta 52, AKG’s D112, Sennheiser’s E602, or ElectroVoice’s RE20, just to name a few of the many available options. Place the mike with the address side just within the hole on the front head, angled toward the beater for more snap. If there is no port in the head, place the mike either near the center of the kick pointing toward the area of the beater on the other side, or off to the edge of the kick for a rounder sound.

For the remaining channel, you should either go with miking the snare, or just having one overhead. If you plan to do a lot of finesse-y snare work with brushes or ghost notes, go with a mike on the snare, placed about an inch or two above the rim of the drum, angled to capture the desired sound. Otherwise, go with an overhead mike to capture the cymbals, toms, and snare drum. Place a single small diaphragm condenser about 12" to 18" above the cymbal array, positioned so that it best captures a blend of the instruments you’ll focus on the most: either dead center for a balanced view, listing toward the snare/hi-hat side for straight-ahead beat-keeping genres, or slightly more toward the ride side if you’ll be ringing out ride patterns most of the night.