The drum kit usually gets a lot of attention in most sessions because just about all modern music is rhythm-oriented and highly dependent upon the drums for the song’s pulse. In fact, in most rock, pop, R&B, and country music, a wimpy-sounding drum kit equates to a wimpy track, hence the extreme attention to obtaining a big drum sound.
As a general starting point before you even begin any complex drum miking, it’s important that you get a good picture of what the drum kit sounds like. To do this, try the following four steps from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition:
- Go out into the room with the drums and have the drummer play the song that you’re about to record. Note the tone of the drums.
- Place a single mic 8 to 10 feet in front of the kit at about the same height as the drummer’s head. A large-diaphragm condenser will work nicely for this.
- Record the kit for a minute or two.
- Listen to the playback. Is the set balanced, or do one or two drums or cymbals stand out?
This will give you an idea of what the drum kit sounds like and what the issues may be when you begin recording, which now allows you to compensate by drum tuning, mic selection, or placement.
It’s a fallacy to believe that the only way to achieve a big rockin’ drum sound is by miking every drum and cymbal, though. In fact, there are many tried and true methods of drum miking that have been the source of hit records for decades that use anywhere from only one to three mics.
Whichever method you choose, try looking at the drum kit as just a single instrument. Also realize that in the end, multiple-drum miking isn’t all that much different from trying to record only the individual strings on a guitar while a chord is being strummed. We’re not looking so much for each discrete note, but the overall sound of the instrument.
And don’t forget that the drums have to sound great by themselves first in order to sound great when recorded, and that a great drummer is the biggest part of the equation.
You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.