The secrets to recording drums with only a few microphones
If you’re a bit short of time and feel like recording drums it’s going to be a mission, but here you can find some tips on how to record a drum kit using only a few microphones.
Back in the 50’s and 60’s drums were recorded with only 1 or 2 microphones (1 Over Head mic and sometimes 1 Front Kick mic) and they still sounded amazing. Just listen to Sonny Rollins records ‘Way Out West’ if you don’t believe me!
Using only a few microphones has it’s benefits, such as less phase problems and, of course, it will be much faster to mix. Check out the tips below to help you decide what method is best for you when recording drums.
One Microphone Soul Technique:
To get a great sound using only one microphone it’s vital that you find the perfect spot in the room. Simply do this by walking around the room while the drummer is playing until you hear the sound you are looking for, you need to place the microphone right there. When you listen back, try to identify whether or not every element of the drum kit is balanced correctly. If anything feels wrong or too loud, move the microphone again until you find the right spot.
A good example of the single microphone technique can be heard on the Dap Kings records. By placing the microphone between the kick and the snare and adding a light compression to it, you can get a really nice and “In Your Face” sound. (Recording Studio Rockstars, 2019)
One Microphone Overhead:
Another way of recording with one microphone is to position the microphone above the drum kit, looking down and pointed between the snare drum and the kick drum. If the drums sound too far away, just lower the microphone, but ensure that it doesn’t get in the drummer’s way!
If you happen to have a Stereo Pair of cardioid or omni microphones you can try the spaced pair technique.
Put one microphone above the high hat and the snare drum, then put the other microphone above the ride and the floor tom looking down.
When listening back, pan hard left and hard right and make sure that the phase between the microphones is correct to avoid lower frequency cancellation. As with the previous techniques, try to see if every piece of the drum kit has the right balance. As before, check if there is anything that doesn’t feel right, or if the volume is off. If it is just move the microphones around you find the right spot.
ORTF Stereo Pair:
This technique comes from the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française. It involves setting up a stereo pair of cardioid mics above the drums with a 110° angle between the two mics looking down. The mics should be a matched pair and placed 17 cm apart from capsule to capsule. This gives a nice stereo image, but still maintains a good mono compatibility.
XY Coincident Pair:
This technique involves a matched pair of cardioid mics that are set at a 90º angle with the capsule as close as possible. With this technique you will get a very focussed image that sounds almost mono with a subtle stereo effect. This can be great if you want the drums to have a lot of focus and punch, and therefore don't necessarily need a wide stereo image.
This technique is really good if you want to have a nice wide stereo image while keeping the kick drum and snare drum in the centre of your mix.
To start, place one microphone above the rack tom pointing down at the snare drum, then measure from the centre of the snare drum up to the capsule of the mic and back down to the kick drum beater. While holding a string (or cable lead) on the snare and the kick drum beater rotate the apex of the triangle that you just created, with the string over towards your right shoulder and floor tom. When you feel you've found a good spot for the second Mike Place the second mic at the tip of that triangle.
Take both microphones and pan them hard left and right in your mix. This will give you a great stereo image. However, it will also keep the kick and snare dead center in your mix and totally focused as they are the same distance from each microphone. If you think that the kick drum needs a little more definition, you can always add a kick drum microphone.
Glyn Johns Technique:
Glyn Johns is a british musician, engineer, and producer who most notably worked with Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, and even started his career assisting The Beatles. He really made a name for himself in the annals of recording legends with his monstrous John Bonham drum sounds on all those Zeppelin records. And the kicker is…he only used 4 microphones to do it!
Specifically, all you need for this method are 2 overhead mics (ideally large diaphragm condensers), one kick mic (dynamic or condenser), and one snare mic (usually a dynamic). The majority of the sound comes from the overheads while the kick and snare mics act as “spot” mics to fatten up those two huge elements of the kit and give you a bit more to mix with.
This method starts with taking your first overhead mic and placing it about 3 to 4 feet directly above the snare (or middle of the kit). It should be pointing down at the kit. Record a little bit and listen back to that one mic. You are listening for a complete balance of the kit.
Once you are happy that you have a good balance of the kit with your first mic take your second overhead mic and place it just to the right of your floor tom, roughly 6 inches above the rim and facing across the tom towards the snare and hi hat. (The Recording Revolution, 2019)
The key to getting this mic in phase with your first overhead mic is to make sure that the grill of the microphone is exactly the same distance from the center of the snare as the first overhead mic. Simply take a mic cable, have your drummer hold one end of it firmly to the center of the snare as you stretch the cable up to the first overhead and pinch off the distance. Then with your drummer still holding his end firmly to the snare, swing the cable over to the second mic and make sure that mic is lined up with where you are pinching it.
When panned, these two microphones alone should give you a completely balanced, clear, and punch stereo recording of your kit.
Grab your kick mic and place it close to the resonant head or inside the drum. Place it where you get that fullness and attack that you want to compliment your first two mics. With the snare, place your mic a couple of inches above the rim angled across the snare. Experiment with the angle of this mic for big differences in sound. Adjust these two mics to taste to round out your drum sound. Remember, you will already have the kick and the snare in your overhead mics to some degree so these two close mics should bring what is missing from that initial sound.
Recording Revolution. (2019). The Glyn Johns Drum Recording Method - Recording Revolution. [online] Available at: https://www.recordingrevolution.com/the-glyn-johns-drum-recording-method/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
Recording Studio Rockstars. (2019). 8 Ways To Record Your Drum Kit (With One, Two, Or Three Mics). [online] Available at: https://recordingstudiorockstars.com/8-ways-record-drum-kit-one-two-three-mics/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].