Drum Set Miking Techniques (With 1,2 or More Mics)
Recording a full drum set is not the easiest thing to do. However, you don’t have to spend a bunch of money or get overly complicated to achieve great sound. The truth of the matter is, as long as you have a mic of some variety, you can record a drum set. Yes, the common convention is to use three or more, but that shouldn’t stop you from working with what you’ve got (or just trying something different). Below I’ve listed an array of drum miking techniques that range from requiring 1, 2, 3, 4 or more microphones.
The One Mic Setup -
Some people will tell you that you absolutely need more than one mic to get a decent kit sound. However, this is simply not the case. You can certainly get some great drum tracks with a single mic. As far as placement goes, there are a lot of techniques. Many people will use an omnidirectional mic in between the toms so that you are capturing everything. Others prefer the positioning to be above the cymbals to pick up more of the toms and ride. If you don’t have an omni mic, the same placements will work with whatever, but you would usually angle it the snare. There is no perfect spot here, just try things out until you come across the sound you are looking for. Also, I would avoid going for a room mic setup. This is the problem many people run into with using just one mic. If you are placing the mic too far from the kit you will lose that punchiness that nearly every drum sound needs.
Kick and Overhead -
If you are working with two mics, most people would choose to have the kick drum receiving its own dedicated mic. This is a pretty simple method because it is really just adding in kick control to one of the single mic methods mentioned above. And in most situations, this added command and presence to the kick drum is going to make for a much more pleasant time when trying to get the low end in the mix to sit just right.
Just Overheads -
If you care more about getting a stereo image of your kit than having control over the snare or kick, using two overheads is a great two mic setup. In techniques with more mics, the majority of the sound comes from the overheads. This is because they are capturing nearly everything happening on the kit and doing so proportionally. Furthermore, you likely will get a nice stereo spread, just make sure you check the phase.
While ideally you would combine this method with a solid kick drum mic, it is not needed depending on the sound you are going for. So basically, you won’t be getting a great rock or metal sound from just overheads but for more subtle genres this could work great.
The Glyn Johns Technique -
The Glyn Johns Technique is a fantastic choice for those with 3 or 4 mics wanting to get the most out of what they’ve got. There are also a lot of variations with this one, so I will mention a couple here. At its simplest, this technique consists of three mics, one overhead, one on the kick, and the last on the side of the ride/floor tom pointed at the snare. The overhead and side mic are equidistant from the snare and act as a full image of the kit (minus the kick). This simple method has served as the standard for countless drum recordings and always sounds great.
A common variation of this technique is to use 4 mics which gives you some improved control. In this setup you would have a pair of stereo overheads above the kit, the same kick mic, and now a close mic on the snare. A lot of folks prefer this arrangement because of the added benefits of having a dedicated snare mic. And with the kick still being covered by its dedicated mic, you have the most important parts of your drum sound with the most control.
Using a Room Mic(s) -
There are so many ways in which you can use and set up a room mic when recording drums. To be clear, we are not talking about a 1-mic recording solution here. I would only suggest using a room mic if you are already pretty happy with the miking situation you have directly on your kit. Furthermore, your level of success when using room mics is largely dependent on how the room you’re in is treated.
Adding the sound of your room to your direct sound can give you a lot more sway over the kit’s tone in the mix. When placing the room mic there are not any real standard positions because every room is different. Generally speaking, it is usually going to sound good using a matched pair of condenser mics about 8-10 ft. from the kit. You can point these mics in any direction, even facing away. You should be trying different areas out to see where the reflections sound best. Additionally, it is common to get great results doing this same process with a single ribbon mic.
These are just a few of the ways in which you can go about miking up a drum kit. There really are countless ways that you can go about recording drums, even with just a single mic. The five setups mentioned above are some of the more common, but you will see plenty of completely different methods used in all studios. The best thing you can do when recording drums (and everything else) is to try, listen, and repeat.