Miking drums is both an art and a science. Your technique is going to be informed by your kit, where you’re performing, the kind of music you’re playing, the gear you have and, ultimately, your own personal tastes. Lock down your sound with a few tips and tricks from some of the greatest drummers of all time.
“When miking drums, I try to place the mic where I can get a pure dynamic sound without reinforcement. A good example would be the Beta 57 on the snare. While I point the mic at the drumhead about two inches from the head, I also try to record flat without a lot of added EQ, so I can get exactly what I want when I signal process. If I am unsure of the end results, I will record with more than one mic, so I can mix the sounds while still having control of EQ and processing of each mic. Drums are the last of the acoustic dynamic instruments that are totally dependent on the selection of proper mics and mic placement. I use simple miking and basic mics.”
The man behind the iconic beat on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Ndugu Chancler played with everyone from jazz legend Miles Davis to classic crooner Frank Sinatra.
“One trick I always use is cutting a small piece of cardboard in a six-inch square, with a hole just big enough to push an SM57 through in the middle. I use the cardboard as a buffer for air pressure coming from the hi-hat to prevent that annoying bleed.”
John JR Robinson can look back on an impressive studio career, including drumming for producer Quincy Jones starting in 1979.
“A cool trick I learned while recording with legendary engineer/producer Reinhold Mack, who worked with ELO, Queen, and The Rolling Stones, is to mike the snare drum from the side of the snare shell. We've tried this method with multiple different microphones and it really brings out the sound of the drum itself, with just enough of the snap from the snares and almost none of the ringing overtones coming off of the top head. It also gets a very nice rim click sound. We usually position the mic an inch or less away from and perpendicular to the surface of the shell – making sure to avoid the drum’s air vent hole.”
Known for the versatility and musicality of his drumming, Paul Wertico was a member of the Pat Metheny Group for almost two decades.
“Most of the time, the majority of my drum sound comes from the overhead mics, or the room mics for an ‘ambient’ sound. The idea here is the get a great full range of tones with a nice stereo image. I use what is called an X/Y configuration utilizing a pair of KSM44s. The two mics are placed close together and angled at about 75-90 degrees. Each mic should be as close to one another as possible. I pan each mic hard left/right. The left side is the hi-hat side from a drummer’s perspective mix. The lower the mics are to the kit, the more stereo the sound is. If you are mixing to a mono signal, raise the mics up to a higher position.”
Russ Miller is an accomplished session drummer, recording over the years with the likes of Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Nelly Furtado.
“The main requirement with live sound is having a system that can be set up and taken down quickly. I use KSM137s on all the toms for live applications. All the barrels set into A53M shock mounts are attached to an aluminum bar, which is mounted somewhere on the kit. Then a loom of cables all cut to specific lengths and wrapped with tech flex make for an elegant and quick solution. The shock mount isolates the mic from the drum and hardware. I do not place these mics close to the drums. They are at least two inches away. If the kit is well balanced there is no leakage problem.”
From Peter Gabriel to Judas Priest, Simon Phillips has toured and recorded with an incredibly diverse group of artists. For many years, the rock, jazz and fusion expert was also a member of the band Toto.
Words: LOUDER magazine