Legendary Producer Bob Clearmountain On Recording Drums With 2 Microphones

2015 May 18, 2015

There is something beautiful about simplicity, especially when it comes to music making.

Take one of the most complex instruments to record, an acoustic drum set. Typically the modern studio reaches for 12 or more microphones to capture the entire kit well.

But legendary producer/engineer Bob Clearmountain (The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen) shows you an even simpler way: the two mic method.

The Perfect Home Studio Method

Today I want to share with you a video that the crew at Apogee put together, featuring their 2 channel interface the Duet.

Take a couple of minutes to watch and listen to Clearmountain and the talented Matt Chamberlain demonstrate a classic two channel recording method for drums. Disregard the brands and the gear specifically, and instead hone in on the mindset and the technique.

This is quite possibly the perfect drum recording method for the typical home studio where two channels is all that’s available.

Mixing From The Beginning

One of the interesting things Clearmountain mentions in the video is why he placed the kick drum mic inside, rather than just outside the hole.

He said that the hole on the kick drum resonant head creates a bunch of concentrated air that blasts the diaphragm of the mic, giving you “fake” bottom end that you’d have to “filter out later”.

So what did he do? Avoid that all together.

He moved the mic to a place where he gets closer to the sound he wants to hear in the mix, rather than waiting on an EQ or filter to clean it up later.

Please don’t miss how powerful (and smart) this kind of thinking is. I know it’s a simple and seemingly insignificant mic placement decision. But it reveals his type of thinking: have the final mix in mind from the beginning.

Your recordings will sound better because of it.

Playing Lighter For A Bigger Sound

Building off of the first point (of having the final mix in mind on recording day) the drummer in the video Matt Chamberlain (a legend in his own right) drops a brilliant but counterintuitive drum recording bomb on us.

If you want a bigger, more balanced sound in the mix, play lighter on the drums.


This advice is two fold brilliance.

First I love that the smart folks at Apogee thought to even ask Matt (the drummer) his advice on playing technique. When it comes to recording drums, all we seem to talk about is mic choice, mic placement, and mic count. But rarely do we talk about how the drummer PLAYS the darn thing.

If you get nothing else out of this post, get this: how the drummer plays the kit will determine the sound of your drum recording more than anything else.

So taking that concept a bit more specifically, Chamberlain suggests that drummers play lighter than they typically would, because of one reason: better balance in the mix later on, especially if you want to compress that overhead mic.

Again, like Clearmountain, Chamberlain is thinking ahead to the mix, and adjusting his recording technique accordingly.

If everything in mixing is all about balance the same is true for recording. Don’t just slam your instrument (in this case drums) – think about each piece, and try to get a good balance on recording day. It will make mixing that much easier.

Experiment Like Crazy

The last part of the video interview with Clearmountain is pure recording gold. Listen to what he says:

I would come in at night, after sessions when nobody was in the studio and I would tune the drums for hours, and try all kinds of different things. Just to see. And I’m not even a drummer. I can’t play drums to save my life. But I would sit there and start messing around with it until “Oh that’s starting to sound good.” or “Oh, that sounds really bad!” – Bob Clearmountain

This is how you learn my friends. Putting in hours and hours of crazy experimentation.

Recording and mixing is not a science. It’s not a rigid formula. It’s an art. One that you only learn by doing. 

How else can you really know what things sound like and what’s possible with the gear you have? So many young home studio people these days don’t want to put in the time to fiddle around with things. And they’re missing out.

If you can learn to make time for the tweaking and fiddling and experimenting (outside of your blocked off session time) you will start to learn the ins and outs of this craft and gain knowledge that will help you achieve your music making goals.

There’s no other shortcut to sonic greatness. So get to work!

Give Simple A Try

If you’ve ever recorded drums with a bunch of mics and they don’t sound nearly as good as what you just heard in this video, then perhaps it’s time to try this simple 2 mic method.

Get rid of the stereo overheads, the top and bottom snare mics, the tom mics, and the room mics. Just go to a simple kick and overhead approach and see if you can’t learn your gear, your room, and your instrument better.

And if you only have one microphone or preamp, then go with a simple one mic approach. I’ve done it a few times and Clearmountain even mentioned it as a classic approach in this video.

You have nothing to lose by simplifying your setup and everything to gain. You’ll be so clearly focused on the sound and the performance that in the end you’ll likely capture a much better recording.

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