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One of the most important and overlooked aspects of drum miking is making sure that the mics are all in-phase. This is really important because with only one out-of-phase mic, the whole kit will never sound as big as it should, and if not corrected before all the drums are mixed together, might not be able to be fixed later. Here’s an excerpt from The Drum Recording Handbook 2nd edition (written with Dennis Moody) that looks at an important part of this issue.
“So just what is phase anyway? Without getting into a heavy explanation, it just means that all the microphones are pushing and pulling together. If one mic is pushing while another is pulling, they cancel each other out at certain frequencies.
There are two types of phasing problems that can happen – electronic and acoustic. An acoustic phasing problem occurs when two mics are close together and pick up the same signal at the same time, only one is picking it up a little later than the first because it’s a little farther away. That said, electronic phasing of the mics is just as important.
Why would there be an electronic phase problem? Most of the time it’s because a mic cable was mis-wired (either repaired incorrectly or originally wired incorrectly from the factory), or the microphone itself is sending a signal that’s out-of-phase from the other mics that your using. In other words, one mic is outputting a positive voltage on pin 2 of the XLR connector when the other mics are outputing negative on pin 2. This is something that was more prevalent in the days before XLR connections were standardized, so it’s not much of a problem now unless you’re using an old vintage mic.
Regardless of how it happens, there are two ways to check the electronic phase.
Checking Phase The Easy Way
There’s a very easy way to check mic phase. After you get a mix balance of the kit together, flip the phase selector (this is more accurately a “polarity” switch) on each mic channel one at a time either on your console or in the DAW. Leave it on the position that delivers the most low end. Do this on every mic in the kit (select the overhead and room mics in a pair, but check the left mic against the right as well).
Checking Phase The Slightly More Difficult Way
This method takes a bit more work, but you’ll know for sure if you have a mic cable that’s wired backwards. Also, you really have to have another person with you to make this work. It’s a two-man operation.
First you have to pick a mic and make it your “reference.” Any mic on the kit will do, but it’s easier to pick a mic that can easily come off the stand.
Now take your reference mic and put it next to another mic on the kit, say the kick drum mic, as in the graphic on the left. Make sure that each mic is at the exact same volume level (this is important!). Now have someone talk into the mic while you switch the phase selector on either the console or DAW. Again, choose the selection that sounds the fullest.
Do this to each microphone. Any channel that has it’s phase selector different from all the others has a mis-wired cable. Make sure you mark it so you don’t have the same problem again!”
You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Drum recording is too often left to trial and error to when getting sounds. Here’s a checklist from the 2nd edition of my Drum Recording Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that makes sure that the basics are covered (assuming that the drums sound great acoustically) before you open up the mics.
“Like the foundation of a house, the drums are the foundation of a recording. With a strong foundation, you can build almost anything on it that you or your clients can imagine. A little effort and time spent miking the drums and getting the sound just right can result in a recording that sounds better than you would have ever imagined.
Remember, take risks, experiment, take notes on what works and what doesn’t, be creative, and most of all, have fun!
Here’s a list of things to check if something just doesn’t sound right. Remember that each situation is different and ultimately the sound depends upon the drums, the drummer, the room, the song, the arrangement, the signal chain, and even the other players. It’s not unusual to have at least one of these things out of your control.
☐ Are the mics acoustically in phase? Make sure that tom mics and room mics are parallel to each other. Make sure that any underneath mics are at a 45° angle to the top mics.
☐ Are the mics electronically in phase? Make sure that any bottom mics have the phase reversed. Make sure that all the mic cables are wired the same by doing a phase check.
☐ Are the mics at the correct distance from the drum? If they’re too far away they’ll pick up too much of the other drums. If they’re too close the sound will be unbalanced with too much attack or ring.
☐ Are the drum mics pointing at the center of the head? Pointing at the center of the drum will give you the best balance of attack and fullness.
☐ Are the cymbal mics pointed at the bell. If the mic is pointed at the edge of the cymbal, you might hear more air “swishing” than cymbal tone.
☐ Is the high-hat mic pointed at the middle of the hat? Too much towards the bell will make the sound thicker and duller. Too much towards the edge will make the sound thinner and pick up more air noise.
☐ Are the room mics parallel? If you’re using two room mics instead of a stereo mic to mic the room, make sure that the mics are on the same plane and are exactly parallel to each other. Also make sure that they’re on the very edge of the kit looking at the outside edge of the cymbals.
☐ Does the balance of the mix sound the same as when you’re standing in front of the drums? This is your reference point and what you should be trying to match. You can embellish the sound after you’ve achieved this.
These are not hard and fast rules, just a starting place. If you try something that’s different from what you’ve read and it sounds good, it is good!”
You can read more from The Drum Recording Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.