How to Mic a Drum Kit
There are lots of ways to mic a drum set. Let’s walk-through how-to mic a drum kit, all the way from kick and snare to toms, overheads and rooms, including mic recommendations and placement.
Kick drums come in lots of sizes, from big, wide Bonham-style 14″ x 26″ bass drums to much smaller kick drums. There are lots of mic techniques for getting a great kick drum sound. Here are some miking options you might want to try.
* One mic outside the front (resonant) head
Putting a mic in front of the outer head is the most common kick drum mic placement, but there are still plenty of variables. You’ll find lots of variability in the sound depending on where on the head you position it and the distance away from the head. For live sound on a kick with no hole in the head, I find that positioning the mic in the lower half of the head about one-third of the drum’s diameter away from the rim will work well. Put the mic between 1″–3″ off the outer head.
* One boundary mic lying inside the kic
Placing a boundary mic on a pillow inside the kick is the simplest option if you have a hole in the resonant head. It keeps the bleed from other drums and cymbals to a minimum and will give you lots of impact. Some people like to drop a mic in the hole, laying it right on the pillow at the bottom of the kick. That gives lots of low end, and it’s a great no-fuss solution because you don’t have to mess with a mic stand.
* One stand mic inside the kick
There are lots of mics that work well inside the kick. Using any of these mics on a small boom stand will allow lots of flexibility in positioning. As you move the mic closer to the batter head and closer to the center of the drum, you’ll get lots of attack (click) but not as much low end. Moving off-axis from the center of the drum will yield a more balanced sound (low end to top end), and moving away from the head will change the sound even more. I typically position the mic off center on the drum head (at about 1/3 of the drum’s diameter) and about halfway back in the depth of the shell.
* Two mics inside
Using a boundary mic lying inside the drum for the low end, combined with another stand-mounted mic for the attack, gives a lot of flexibility when crafting an awesome sounding kick. Boundary mics like those mentioned above resting inside the kick with a mic on a stand positioned near the beater will yield excellent results.
* One mic inside and one mic outside
You can get great results by using an inside kick mic combined with a mic outside the kick.
NOTE: If using a ribbon mic on kick drum, stay away from the hole where there’s a huge rush of air forced out when the drum is played.
Microphone choice has a huge impact on the sound of a snare drum.
* Over – The typical way to mic a snare drum is to put a mic slightly over the snare and you’re done. While that will definitely work, a great deal more finesse can and should be applied. My typical starting position is placing the mic about 1.5″ above the head, 2″ inside the rim, and aimed down at the center of the head. If I want less low end, I move the mic farther away from the drum (higher) or farther from the center of the head, which diminishes the low end due to diminished proximity effect.
* Over/Under – If you want more buzz or more snare sound (the wires that run under the bottom head) from the drum, adding a second mic beneath the drum is a great idea. Point the under-snare mic at the snare wires from a few inches away. Listen to the under-snare mic combined with the over-snare mic, and switch the polarity of the under-snare mic. Use whichever setting yields the most low end.
Depending on the drummer and the musical style, hi-hats can be so loud that some engineers don’t even bother miking them, but put a mic on them just so you have the option of using it if you need it. When miking the hi-hats, put the mic above the top cymbal, about 3″–4″ above, and about halfway between the center and the outer edge. If you get too close to the edge of the cymbals, you’ll end up with a cuppy sound that accents the opening and closing of the hats. If you put the mic too close to the bell, you end up with a pinging sound. If you mic hi-hats from the sides, you’ll get a rush of air every time the hi-hats close together. Experimentation with placement is critical, and each drummer’s hi-hats will sound different (brighter/darker) along with their technique, so try different placements and mics depending on how they play.
Like all drum miking, there are lots of options for microphone choice and placement for toms. If you’re in the studio, you can employ whatever mics (regardless of size) and all the hardware you need. For stage, and especially for video however, you might need microphones that are less visible. For mic placement when using mic stands, many of the same rules for snare miking apply. Put the mic near the outer rim of the tom head, pointing down. One big determining factor when it comes to tom mic placement is the presence of the cymbals, both physically and sonically.
NOTE: Some engineers think that using hypercardioid mics on toms, due to their tighter polar pattern, is preferable for rejecting cymbals from the rear. But many hypercardioid or supercardioids have a high-frequency lobe (area where it picks up sound) directly behind the mic, and it’s frequently worse in the high-frequency range (5kHz and above). Using hypercardioids on toms may actually accent the cymbals that are directly behind the mic far more than a standard cardioid dynamic.
The most common overhead miking setup is probably two spaced cardioids above the drums over the left and right sides of the kit.
Personally, I’ve had the greatest success gathering an overhead perspective of the entire kit instead of just the cymbals. For recording I start dialing in my drum sound by listening to only the overhead mics and then fill in with the spot mics.