Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Drum Miking - Part 1

Hello everybody and welcome back.  Being an instructor here at The Lexington School For Recording Arts means that you have to be able to wear many audio hats. So along with teaching the mastering class, helping in the Pro Tools lab, the analog portion of the school, the Waves certification class, and the occasional live sound class, the main course that I teach at the school involves actually recording a live band.  This deals with setting up the board, routing the tracks to the recorder, setting the separate headphone mixes, and of course, setting up the microphones for the band. This is the part of the course I would like to talk about today.

I have already gone over some of the guitar mic placement in the previous blog post, so today I want to focus about miking up the drum kit. Now a full blog about this could take a very long time, so today I'm going to focus on kick drum and snare only. I will do a part two for my next blog about the rest of the kit.

When you mic up the kick drum, there are two things to be aware of - the microphone you're going to use, and the  placement of the microphone on the drum. There are many great microphones for miking kick drums. Some I have used are the Shure Beta 52, the Audix D6, the AKG D12, and my personal favorite, the AKG D112.

The positioning of the kick drum microphone is very important depending on the type of sound you're looking to get out of the kick drum. You can put it in three general places: Outside the drum, just inside the hole in the front head, and completely inside the body of the drum itself. Although I have seen many many engineers use the second way of miking the drum, I prefer the third way, putting the microphone completely inside the drum.

When you put the microphone inside the kick drum, you achieve several things that you cannot get from any other way of miking. Number one, you get much more isolation from the rest of the drum kit than you do if you mic outside the drum or just barely inside the hole. Number two, you control how much snap, or attack, that you receive from the beater side of the kick drum. If you need more attack, you simply move the mic closer to the back head. If you need less attack, you just move the mic closer to the front of the kick drum. This option is not available to you if you do not have the microphone inside the drum itself. You are also able to do off axis miking from inside of the drum. If you like the bass to attack ratio that you are getting, but not the overall brightness of the attack, you simply turn the mic slightly to one side or the other so it is not pointing directly at the beater and you can achieve a slightly less bright attack while still maintaining the same amount of bass. For most rock drum sounds, my personal placement of the kick drum mic is approximately 6 to 8 inches from the beater side of the kick drum pointing directly where the kick pedal is going to connect with the beater head. This gives me a nice, natural, bright attack and still allows me to have a good low-end when I get into the mixing stage.

Occasionally you will run into the drummer that does not have a hole cut in his front drum head for you to place a microphone either just inside or fully inside the drum. This could be major problem, and my solution for this is one of two ways.  One way, is I tell the drummer that he must remove his front head so I can place the microphone inside his kick drum to receive the necessary attack that I need to get his kick to sound correct. If he won't take his drum head off, then I either have to use two microphones, one in the front (usually a condenser like a Neumann U87) approximately 6 to 8 inches away from the front head,and a smaller, tighter patterned dynamic mic (such as an SM 57) pointing where the drummer's kick pedal is hitting the beater head. Then I will blend these two microphones together to create one kick drum sound. Sometimes the bleed is too much on these microphones, and the sound is not good at all. When this problem happens, I usually do not use the front microphone.  I take the back microphone by the beater head and I trigger it with a drum replacement program. I have not run into this problem very many times in the past, but occasionally you will find a drummer who does not have a hole cut in his drum head and refuses to remove it, so it's good to have a back up plan when these incidences occur.

So enough about kick drums. Let's talk about snare. There's not very many ways to mic a snare drum. You can mic it from the top, or you can mic it from the bottom, or you can mic it from top and bottom. Personally I like to mic from the top. I have tried miking from the bottom as a blend with the top microphone, but it never seems to sound good to me, so I stopped using the bottom microphone many years ago. So today we are going to focus on top of miking only.  

Although there are quite a few small diaphragm dynamic microphones that can be used to mike up a snare drum, the most used (and the one I use) is the SM 57.  How far you place the microphone away from the top head of the drum changes how the drum sounds. If you put it too close, you will not get much body at all. If you put it too far away, you will not get very much stick attack. Plus, you have run the risk of getting too much bleed from the rest of the drum kit onto your microphone, making it almost impossible to compress or gate correctly. What I have found to be a good position for the snare mic, and what most other engineers have found as well, is to put the microphone approximately 2 to 3 inches up above the snare head and about 2 inches inside The perimeter of the drumhead ring.

Now, I don't usually go through my drum kit with a ruler or measuring tape and make sure that the snare mic is exactly 2 inches up or that the kick drum microphone is exactly 6 inches away from the beater head, I just use very basic rough estimates.  You can use a tape measure and get exact measurements if you would like. If you were doing a major label session where the drums will be recorded many different times over the course of several months and the microphones must be placed back exactly where they were to begin with, then I highly recommend using a ruler or measuring tape. But if you're going to record all the drums for say, a local band that is going to only be in the studio for one month total, then the exact measurements aren't that crucial because you're going to record all of your drums at once or possibly even just leave your drum kit miked up for the entire session so that if overdubs are needed, the drum kit will be available and ready to go immediately. This is how I usually do my sessions, so I rely on what I refer to as "the finger method".

I know that my index finger is 4 inches long (yes, I measured it), so I just use my hand to get my distances on my microphones. I do this for the entire drum kit: snare, toms, Hi hat, you name it, I use this method. The only thing that I can't do with it, is measure my overheads, because of course, they are more than 4 inches away!  Now  I know that my snare drum should be 2 inches off of the head and approximately 2 inches into the head, so having a 4 inch finger, I just place my finger down on the snare head, and position the microphone to touch my knuckle. I do this for the up and in and it is almost exactly 2 inches up and 2 inches in every single time. It may not be the most exact method, but it works for me, and I get a good sound on my snare drum, so I'm not worried about it. If it works for you, use it. If you need to measure with a measuring tape and get the exact number, do that. If the sound of the snare is good, what ever way you use, then you did it the right way. That's what's great about music, to quote Eddie Van Halen, "if it sounds good, then it is good".

So that is how I do my kick and snare mic placement. Next time I will go over my placement for toms, using dynamics and using condensers. Also we will go over miking the cymbals and the role room mics play in the overall sound of your drum kit in a later article.

Well, that's it for now. Don't forget that you are welcome to stop by and tour our facilities anytime. Just give us a call at 859-335-8440 (if you're local) or TOLL FREE at 877-335-8440 to set it up, so we can give you the ultimate LIRCo experience. See ya next time!!!

Steve Nall

Head Engineer, LIRS