A Beginners Guide to Drum Mics

Music is incredibly nuanced and detailed, regardless of what the genre is or of where the actual music originated from. A big part of building these dynamics in modern recorded music is to pay attention to the subtle tweaks one can make during the recording process.

These dynamic changes could be anything, from adding effects to your desired instrument, enhancing the equipment for better quality or lessening it for more of a lo-fi quality (which is kind of a trend these days with modern indie and trap rap bands) or manipulate the setting in which the instrument is being recorded.

Throughout this article, we will look into a lot of the latest drum mics and techniques that are used to record drums and how they could affect the sound of the final recorded product. More importantly, we will take a look at how you will go through the process of mic’ing your drums properly piece by piece, as well as the proper equipment for each piece and how to manipulate it for your own sound construction.

Over Head / Room Mics

The main purpose of overhead drum microphones is to help the drum recording sound fuller and more realistic. Stereo means that the sound is full and surrounds the listener and does not need any form of double tracking or anything of the such because of the thickness you gain from adding room ambience and such.

As for the nature of the microphones, most overhead drum microphones are condenser mics. These are the same type of drum mics that are used in recorded vocals.

These microphones create room ambience for thickness, and to add a natural feel to it. Condenser microphones have the highest frequency response out of all the microphone types that exist in the market. In layman terms, this means these types of microphones can actually capture every little nuance in the room and every little noise.

Using these mics can prove to be a huge advantage because it is a good way to pick up every little sound in the room, instead of going through the hassle of having a single area for each drum part, such as the kick drum mic or snare mic.

The best recommendations I could give for condenser microphones for this type of recording are the Neumann KM184 pair, AKG C414 XLII Stereo Set and Neumann U87 Ai Stereo Set. All of them are top quality equipment and can get the job done perfectly.

The only downside of this style of recording is that it is pretty high cost. I would recommend using this if you have the benefit of studio support. However, if you are on a tight budget, I would recommend using other recording methods.

Kick Drum Microphones

The drums are the heart of any band, as they lock the band in a central and uniform rhythm and tempo. In most band settings, the drums lock it by using the kick drum and it is more than just crucial that the whole band gets to hear the kick drum properly, and to be tight in both the studio and live settings.

For this purpose, one might need a quality kick drum microphone, which will pronounce the kicks and make it sound not just heavy, but also clean.

You know the feel of this! Remember the last time you were in a concert hall or any venue and you felt the kick physically? That’s a sign of good kick drum mic’ing. It makes the kick drum pronounced and powerful on both recording and live.

One of the shortcomings of using a 2 track recording using the room mic’ing technique is that the kick drum gets drowned in the mix and in the recording. This problem could be solved by recording the kick drum on its own in a 3 track recording setup.

The reason for this issue is that the kick drum, like any bass instrument, has different dynamic qualities and clashes with the overall drum sound during a room recording.

An advantage you get with these kick drum microphones is that the top-end equipment, such as the AKG D112, Shure Beta52A and others, are relatively cheap. Like with most of these equipments, you will probably pay nothing beyond two hundred dollars, which is quite cheap when compared to condenser microphones or microphones for other drum parts.

Snare Microphones

One of the hardest things to do while recording drums is to get the right sound for your snare. It is quite an enigma between sound technicians and musicians alike.

It is the holy grail of proper drum tone. This is because you need a strong microphone that will pick up the frequencies to add the punchy sound of a snare that you tuned your drums so hard to get.

With mic’ing and setting up your snare as mentioned before, you will need a mic that will pick up the frequencies properly because your snare tone not only needs to stand out in the mix, but it also defines your drum tone.

Now there is a saving grace to this dilemma, and that saving grace is there is really only one option for microphones, which is the Shure SM57. This option is great for home studios.

The microphones are designed to do five things in order to ensure a good tone for your snare that will cut through the mix. Firstly, they have high max SPL, which is designed to handle loud volumes without distortion.

This is practically the best way to handle clipping and issues with high volumes that could potentially ruin your audio. Another feature in the device is the tight cardioid pattern that is designed to stop the snare sound from bleeding onto other drum tracks, and also they are designed to handle extra gain issues.

Finally, they possess durable casing, which is designed to sustain a heavy touch on the snare without killing the sound and tone.

Hi-Hat Microphones for Your Drums

In regards to the recording and mic’ing of cymbals, the hardest of all to record are the hi-hats, for a range of reasons. They usually need a microphone that captures high frequency sounds and at the same time the recording process needs something that could reject off axis sounds that could meddle with the quality.

Usually, during recording hi-hat parts, it is best to have a microphone dedicated to the hi-hat alone to fill up all of the above requirements.

Most people would look for something that is similar to the condenser microphones we talked about earlier with overhead/room recording. Usually, these microphones do pick up the high frequency noises needed for a clean hi-hat recording.

These condenser microphones will also pick up some of the noise produced by the snare that will bring some ambience to the sound. Thus, you might end up with a bigger and more stereo sound. So, a condenser microphone is more than key here because it picks up a fairly large area of sound and adds the ambience needed for a fuller recording.

The down side is the same as that of the overhead/room recording process, which is the fact that it is fairly expensive for most home studios. Most condenser microphones start out at relatively high prices that could only cater to professional studios.

If you have the budget for these types of condenser drum mics, then I would recommend the highly esteemed Neumann KM184, which is probably the best microphone condenser for hi-hats you can buy right now.

If you have a tight budget and cannot buy a proper condenser for your hi-hats, then I would recommend some of these cheaper options such as the Audio Technica AT2035, the Studio Projects B1 and the Rode NTI-A. These fill up the same functions of a condenser microphone and have filtering options, which is useful for a cleaner recording.

Tom Mic’ing

Toms are a peculiar case in recordings. There is a difference of opinion within the music tech community over how one should treat their toms.

Should it be recorded separately? Should it be done with overhead / room mic’ing? Most engineers and sound technicians opt for not recording it at all and depend on overhead mic’ing instead. After all, condenser microphones already pick it up pretty well.

There are few reason for this. Mic’ing toms is not only a very tedious and expensive process, but it is also deemed unnecessary; even the act of mic’ing the drums is unfeasible. It would over crowd an already overcrowded situation.

But, along with your kick drum and snare, the toms add a lot to the overall warmth and depth of your drum sound in the final product. Also, since fills are an important part of any popular song, it might seem like a good idea to use tom microphones instead of only using overheads and treating the toms as an afterthought.

If one wants to mic toms, though, there are a wide range of options available for home studio owners. The most popular choice, mostly because of the price, is the SM57.However, there are other options as well that are price conscious.

Another option would be to use dynamic drum mics such as Sennheiser MD421 or Sennheiser MD441U.These really capture the sound quality of the toms properly and give them life, and they are very cheap. The problem, though, is the set-up (as previously mentioned).

However, there is another option, a mounted microphone called the Sennheiser e6o4. This solves a lot of these issues, but isn’t as good as the old school microphones.

Drum Mics: Mic’ing The Rest of the Cymbals

Just like with the toms situation, the rest of the cymbals are not usually recorded separately, but are rather picked up by the overhead/room microphones in the room.

It usually seems easier and less of a hassle for most musicians to do if they have the funds for overhead/room condenser microphones. But, as we already know, most home studios would think these drum mics would be more of a luxury than a necessity, so they would go for cheaper options, like mic’ing each cymbal on its own, as tedious as it sounds.

There are a good range of options available in the market that can get the job done. Most of these options are small diaphragm condenser microphones, which could be looked at as a cheap alternative to using overhead condenser microphones for recording.

They do show a lot of promise, are much cheaper than their superior version and can get the job done for most home studios.

Yet again, it should be mentioned that overhead condenser drum mics work MUCH better in that setting and are less of a hassle to record when it comes to mixing and mastering than recording everything separately.

Also, you get a lot of ambience from overhead condenser microphones which you might not get with the lesser version. Yet again, the pricing of overhead condenser microphones is not for everyone, and the other options work great as well.

To conclude our music production odyssey, recording drums could be seen as a hassle and tedious. However, with the right equipment, all of these efforts are quite worth it when you hear your properly recorded tight drum track.

We have looked at every drum piece in a basic 6 piece drum set and how one could record each piece, as well as tricks to add more life to the track, like adding room ambience or by recording things separately.

We also looked into which microphone is best for a range of situations, and how to maximize sound even with a tight budget. With this guide, I hope you find your best drum sound for your project.