When you're miking toms, there's a couple of different things that you need to take into account. Do you want to mike just the top, or do you want to mike top and bottom? Do you want to use a dynamic mic or maybe a condenser? What kind of heads should you use? All of these are very good questions, and hopefully I will provide you the answers that you need.
Normally, I just mike at the top of head of the rack tom. I find that miking the bottom head of the tom, while providing some additional resonance, really doesn't do very much for the overall sound of my drum kit, and is a waste of a track to be honest. So let's stick with the top head. As far as what type of drumhead you should use, it really depends on if you're in the studio or if you're doing live work. In my experience, I have always found in the studio, that batter heads tend to give me the best results, while when I am doing a live sound gig, I find the clear heads are the best. Also, it's a good idea if your drummer knows how to tune his drums! I use a tool called Drum Dial. It is a tempanic pressure tuner that works off of the tension of the head, not the sound, to achieve the correct tone of the drum. And lastly, you need to decide if you want to use dynamic microphones or condenser microphones to record your toms. I would say that the studio standard is the dynamic microphone known as the Sennheiser 421. It's a very good mic I'll admit, and I use it sometimes to make musicians feel at home in the studio since it's something that they are probably used to seeing in other studios. Personally, the microphone I like to use for rack toms is the Audio Technica 4050. It is a large diaphragm condenser that just seems to have more attack and brightness then the 421 while still having about the same amount of body as the 421. I like to have a little more natural stick attack coming through the microphone than the 421 offers me most of the time.
So let's talk distance. If you using a dynamic microphone such as the 421 a Shure 57 or an Audix D2, then you want to be approximately 1 to 2 inches off of the drumhead. For me, with my "finger measuring system" that we talked about in my previous blog, it would be about a knuckle up off of the head. When you use a condenser microphone, such as the 4050, the AKG 414, or even the Neumann U87, you want to be approximately 3 to 6 inches off of the drumhead. In my finger measurement, that would end up being a whole index finger to about half of your hand. Remember, the further away your microphone is from your drum, the more bleed you will get from the surrounding the pieces of the drum kit, so it is very important to find that optimum distance that provide you with enough body and attack, but still gives you the necessary isolation from the rest of the drum kit so that your compression (and possibly gating) will work correctly and not against you. You can also mike both of your up rack toms with one microphone if you need to. I have done this on several occasions when I did not have enough inputs on my console to allow me to record both toms separately. What I did in the situation is, I used a large diaphragm condenser (which happened to be the 4050), and I put it about 6 to 8 inches up directly between both toms, facing straight down. Then in the mixing stage, I added a new audio track to my session and separated the second tom hits from the track and moved them to their own track.
For miking floor toms, my go to microphone is the Shure PG 52. I find this microphone (which is actually a lower level mic made primarily for kick drum miking) gives the floor tom a nice round "boom" while still maintaining some of the attack that is needed. I mic it up generally being about 2 to 3 inches up off the drumhead and 2 to 3 inches into the drum itself (over the ring). I'm not pointing at the middle of the drum like you would a snare mic, but pointing more towards the outside edge about 3 inches into the drumhead.
So that's it. Not nothing too difficult, just your basic mic set up. I do EQ the tracks coming into my system and as well as a EQing them after recording. I find that this gives me the best possible sound I can get going down to my recorder and gives me a good base to start the mix with.
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 and Lexington School for Recording Arts experience. See ya next time!!!
Head Engineer, LIRS