How to Record Drums. Guide for Recording Drums at Home and Studio.

Recording drums is expensive and quite difficult. First of all, you should get the best sound from your drums acoustically. Configure, mute, remove unwanted resonances and eliminate squeaking of pedals and so on.  That things, from which our ears have accustomed, can suddenly appear on the record, and hopes that you will be able get rid of unwanted sounds by using the gate can be wrong. The thing is that the microphone “hears” sound differently, since it has no brain it is located differently. Once I recorded a snare drum, which had an old stretched spring that gave a very unpleasant rattling perfectly audible after the impact. There was no rattling sound on the recording at all. I still can’t figure out where it had disappeared. But hopes for such miracles are unreasonable, before setting up microphones try to make the sound as close as possible to the desired.

By changing the location of microphones relative to the drum you can radically change the sound of drum kit, it is the location that is very important. In order to understand how a particular microphone collaborates with a specific percussion instrument, whether it is a snare or hi-hat, china or even anything of a triangle type, you should have years of experimentation (especially it concerns the triangle). To begin with, you need to know the following basic principles.

If you want to get more lows, place the microphone at a distance of two to five centimeters from the drum head. Approaching the microphone to the plastic picks up bass. The strongest attack you will get by placing the microphone where you hit the plastic. To balance the tone point the microphone slightly away from this place. To emphasize the acoustics of the room, move the microphone away from the instrument.

For more “noisy” hi-hat sound (or individually removable plate) point the microphone closer to the edge of the plate, and for a more brilliant, clear sound, aim the microphone on its dome. To underscore the attack of the pedal on bass drum, place the microphone inside the drum near the side of plastic, in which pedal beats. To weaken attacks send move mic from the beater. If you want to add a resonance of the drum, move the microphone away from the head of drum.

As one person can’t beat the drum, move the microphone and listen to the result of the monitors at the same time (it is not very convenient), in order to better and more quickly understand how to place the microphone, you can ask someone else to change the location of the microphone by your commands. In this case either the same person or someone else should make test beats in the drum. And you, being in the control room, will give commands and listen to what happened.

There are three main ways of recording drums: by two, three or more microphones:Recording Drums

Two-mic method, as the name implies, is made with two microphones, which are usually placed above the kit (the microphones arranged in such a way are usually called overheads). Such a method is practiced in the case when it is necessary to obtain the most natural sound installation, or when there are only two microphones in your studio.Recording Drums

In three-mic method you add one more mic usually near a bass drum, but in some cases the snare, to the two basic overheads.Recording Drums

Well, and just add the microphone near each drum of kit until each drum will be personally microphoned. The method, which uses more than three microphones is called multi-microphone.

The Bass Drum

We recommend you to use dynamic microphones with a large membrane to record the bass drum: AKG D112 and Sennheiser MD421-II. Also Electro-Voice RE20, Shure SM7 / Beta 52A / PGA52, Beyer TG-X50, and Audio-Technica ATM25 are recommended. Sometimes two drums are used to record bass. Moreover, it is recommended to use microphones, which sound differently. For example, you can have an aggressive sound dynamic microphone Sennheiser 421-II ( attack is directed at the point of impact) and warm sounding condenser mic (usually Neumann U47) at a distance of 2-3 meters from the front part (the opposite side of plastic) drum for the sound of “air “. By mixing signals of these microphones, you can find the right balance between attack and resonance of the drum.

Snare Drum

When recording a snare drum it is recommended to use a dynamic vocal microphone type. These qualities have microphones, such as Shure Beta 57 and Beta 58, Series of vocal microphones N/Dym by company Electro-Voice & D by Audix. Microphones of Series N/Dym and D have similar characteristics and sound, so you can use any of them. Also microphones of Beyer production companies, the AKG and Sennheiser will be suitable for recording of snare.

Very often Shure SM57 plays this role. Apparently humps and dips in his rather non-linear frequency response provide that sound that what most of us likes so much. Also, the SM57 is better than many of the microphones with its overload capacity (that is very important when recording snare drum). In addition, the SM57 is often recommended as a universal microphone for recording all the kit instruments, including bass drum and cymbals). Typically, the microphone is placed above the snare drum, four or five inches from the plastic, with an angle.

Sometimes, for a more brilliant sound of his snare condenser microphone with a small membrane is used, usually as an additional one (the main is installed on top of the dynamic) at a small drum. Whenever you record the drum sound with two microphones, try to include a microphone in the opposite phase – it can enhance the sound.

Recording DrumsToms

When recording toms, it is recommended to use medium and large dynamic microphones, but used and Sennheiser 421, 409 and, of course, Shure SM57 are often used too. Many fans have also Electro-Voice N/D 308 and N/D 408 because of the good sound, small size and convenient design. Some engineers like to use large expensive condenser microphones (especially popular Neumann U 87). Others go a different way, using small condenser microphones such as AKG C408, Shure SM98 and Audio-Technica ATM35. These microphones has good features and sound. It seems that people like these microphones because the microphone structure includes brackets for installation on the rim of the drum and does not require dozens mic stands. As for the techniques of locating, it is almost identical to that we’ve mentioned speaking about snare drums. Experiment with the microphone distance from the plastic, because there is huge difference in sound centimeter by centimeter. Directing the microphone between two neighboring toms, you can pretty well record both at the same time reducing the required number of microphones. Especially if the drummer tends to encircle himself with toms from all sides.

Sometimes the microphones are installed inside the drum. May Company released a set of fasteners that can be used without any additional holes (using existing holes), setting mics inside a bass drum, snare drum and each toms.

Installing the microphone inside the drum has its own pros and cons. Some of the advantages include the fact that in this case microphones are maximally protected against the infiltration of extraneous sounds; and that once picked up and fixed the position of the microphone (in the case referred to May fasteners or similar) you will be able to install and sort out the kit. The speed of restoration of the desired sound will be increased significantly (which is especially important during live performances). There are some cons as well. A natural extension of the advantages as usual. If you want to change the sound of the drum that have two plastic by changing the position of the microphone, then you will have to remove one of the plastic. In addition, when recording the drum sound with the internal microphone sound is less natural, which, however, is not always bad. Maybe you will be interested to know for what microphones May makes their fasteners. So, for the bass drum: AKG D112, Audio-Technica ATM25. For snare drums: Sennheiser 504. For toms: AKG D112 R/F, ATM25, the Sennheiser 504, the EV 408ND.

Hi-Hat

Condenser microphones with a small membrane are outside competition. Their good dynamic characteristics and ability to transmit highest frequencies provides sparkling sound, that sound of hi-hat perhaps is the most important thing. We recommend you to use the following microphones: Neumann KM84 and KM184, the AKG 451, 452 and 460, as well as the Shure SM81, Audio-Technica 4031 and 4051. To begin, place the microphone at 10-20cm above the top plate at an angle to it. Listen to how microphone transmits sound nuances when you hit hi-hat. And move the microphone to get the smoothest sound at all the tricks of the performance. Also, while experimenting with the placement of the microphone, try to take into account (and reduce) the penetration of sounds from other drums (since the snare drum is near, he is particularly the one which you can hear on the recordings of h-hat).

Upper Microphones

First of all, you should know the purpose of upper mics: to record the entire system or only for cymbals? If the answer is cymbals then use condenser microphones with a small membrane, such as ones recommended for hi-hat. In order to remove the sound of the whole drum kit, most engineers use condenser microphones with large diaphragm.

For this purpose, of course, good option is classic tube microphone AKG C12, but its price of $12,000 (and it is only one of a pair of microphones used to record) not everyone can afford it. Neumann U87 is approximately as popular as AKG C414. You can also use the new microphone AKG C414 TL II, which was created to sound like 12 C, but with smaller price. Audio-Technica AT4030, AT4050 and Neumann TLM193 is also quite good as well as almost any studio condenser microphone with large diaphragm. Microphones should be placed above the kit at an angle to each other from 75 to 135 degrees. There are two classic upper position of stereo microphones. The position X, at which the microphone axes intersect (left microphone looking to the right cymbals, and the right to the left) and the position Y (left microphone looking to the left cymbal and right on the right). Thus microphones are located next to one another. Such an arrangement gives a good stereo positioning and helps to avoid distortion. However, it should be checked, and in case of a phase shift, change the angle of installation and so on. We remind you that we are talking about the top microphones recording the entire installation. When recording only the upper cymbals, the microphones should be placed at a big distance from each other.

Microphones of Overall Space

If you are recording drums in a good sounding room, it is good decision to install a pair of microphones of overall space to use them to record the acoustics and add it to the sound of the actual drum kit. For this purpose large condenser microphones are preferred (as well as for the upper microphones). Sometimes they use microphones with a circular directional pattern, sometimes with cardioid, to be able to control the sound. Sometimes cardioid microphones are directed at the opposing wall of the kit in order to obtain a large number of reflections. Here there are no limits for experimentation.

Microphone Kits for Recording Drums

If you do not want to think much about choosing a microphone separately for each drum section, there are microphone kits that have a decent sound quality and includes  microphones that we have mentioned above in our article. If you want to learn more about each microphone set, you can find our reviews in the “Drum Microphones Section”. It is also worth noting, that buying kits, you can save a lot of money and in addition you’ll get storage case, and some kits also include XLR cables.

Here are best microphone drum kit solutions on the market (Lowest Price):

Shure PG Alta Drum Kit (299.00$ – 499.00$) 

CAD Audio Touring7 Drum Pack (289.00$) 

Samson 8kit (299.99$) 

Shure DMK57-52 Drum Kit (419.00$) 

AKG Drum Set Concert  (799$) 

Audix DP7 Drum Mic Package (899.00$) 

Dynamic processing

Using dynamic processing devices (gate, compressor, expander, limiter) you can seriously affect the sound of drums. For example, compress the sound of the bass drum, raising the level of the equalizer to 100Hz and cut off the tail using gate, you get a sound that can “pull out the car door. As we mentioned earlier in this article, it is hard to deal with the penetration of outside noise with a gate. It is better to use the expander for this purpose, which gives you possibility to reduce the required number of times a signal. For example, cymbals, infiltrating into the recording of snare clearly have lower levels than the level of the drum, and they fall under the roller of expander getting reduced to a harmless level. This happens smoothly and unobtrusively, in contrast to the gate, which in this case this would have done more harm… We want to say that doing suicidal hard work in order to remove infiltration to the maximum should is suitable only in those cases where the drums are subjected to complex processing, with different technics . If you do not split sound of each drum, then you will not be able to achieve a decent result. In most cases, the infiltration does not bring harm. Remember, drum set is a single instrument.

Application of Compressor allows you to make a drum sound more tight. And everyone knows the formula: “Dense Sound = Happy Drummer!” Well, because the drum sounds have a very wide dynamic range, and drummers are difficult to predict it is highly desirable to use the limiter, which will not rise above a predetermined level. Without a limiter it is very difficult to manage the proliferation in digital recording which is unstable to overloads.

If despite your best efforts you are unable to get sound installation similar to the one you hear on recordings of your favorite bands, do not despair. The thing is that nowadays the drums are often equipped with acoustic triggers connected to MIDI converter which is connected to a sound module or sampler. As a result, the drum hit gets converted into a MIDI signal, triggering desired sound that makes acoustic kit a combined acoustic-electronic one. Thus, it can be mixed in any proportion with the sound of live drums, electronic, and if there is a sampler, generally almost any sound. The possibilities of such systems are very broad and, as a rule, are used both in studio and live performance. But that’s another story…