The Power Of Recording Drums With One Microphone

2015 Apr 06, 2015

Just because many people use a lot of microphones to record a drum kit doesn’t mean it’s the only (or best) way to do it.

In fact, a strong case can be made that the fewer mics you involve the likelihood of your recording sounding better is higher. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true.

Today I want to share with you four reasons why recording with the fewest mics possible (i.e. one mic) is a great way to work.


Via eyeliam Flickr

Absolutely Zero Phase Issues

Did you know that anytime you have more than one microphone capturing a single source (acoustic guitar, piano, drum kit) you introduce potential phase issues?

Phase cancellation is really the problem – and it means a chunk of your sound waves are being cancelled out, leaving you with a thin and un-fulfilling sound. Not cool.

Obviously, with careful consideration of mic placement and some strategic polarity inversion, one can get a relatively phase free drum recording with multiple mics (I’m not trying to scare you away from using more mics), but the simple truth of the matter is that a drum recording that involves only a single microphone will by definition have absolutely NO phase cancellation whatsoever.

That is a wonderful thing because it saves time, hassle, and it works as a hack – a guarantee of no phase problems, no matter where you put the mic.

An Instantly Punchy Sound

Drums are inherently punchy. And yet many of our attempts of home drum recording with 6+ mics leads to a very NON punchy sound. Why is that?

A huge reason is the above problem of phase cancellation. What sounds good to us in the room can get cancelled out with multiple mics.

The other reason is that we can overthink mic placement and have very un-natural sounds (maybe too close to a drum) that just doesn’t sound like what we all know drums to sound like in real life.

If you only have one microphone, by putting it anywhere near the kit, you can’t help but get a punchy sound because the drums are by their nature, punchy.

What your ear hears, the microphone hears (tonally maybe not quiet the same – but we’ll touch on that next). It’s that simple.

Easier To Find The Right Balance

When using multiple mics on a drum kit, it takes a lot of time and effort to get just the right balance.

You have to balance the overheads to the close mics to maybe even the room mics – all to get that perfect picture of the kit.

But with one microphone balancing becomes super simple. Put the mic somewhere, listen back, and assess what you hear. Too much cymbals? Move them closer to the other drums. Too little kick? Find a better position and angle to “see” the kick more.

You place it, record, and listen back. Each time you hear what is good and what is missing you only have one mic to adjust to find that balance.

Now, obviously the one mic option limits your tonal balance (you can’t get the sound of the inside of a kick AND above the cymbals) but it also forces you to make quick compromises allowing you to land on a great sound faster.

Super Fast To Mix

The fourth and final reason recording drums with one microphone is so powerful is that when it comes time to mix, things go super quick.

With no phase issues to work through, and no individual drum mics to process, you simply have to take your one drum track and wield it the best you can.

This saves a ton of time and brain power. Get a good sound (fix any EQ problems, give it some more smack with a compressor, and maybe use a touch of reverb to widen it up) and then move on to the rest of your mix.

This was how mixing went many years ago – fast and to the point. Seems like a good dream if you ask me!

Give One Mic Drums A Chance

Why am I harping on this one mic drum recording thing?

Well for one, if you’re a band or singer/songwriter that is getting into your first home studio setup, you might only be able to afford one mic. And I’m here to tell you that you can do an entire full band production with that thing!

And two, I believe there is much to be gained by focusing on simplicity, minimalism, and an overall “less is more” approach to recording. In recent years we’ve veered to the “more is more” approach. 

More plugins, more tracks, more mics, etc.

I’m of the mind that going back to a more focused and simpler setup and approach can be both liberating and sonically satisfying. What say you?

How many mics do YOU typically use to record drums? And have you ever tried just using one?

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