Next time you record acoustic drums, do me a favor: don’t settle on the first place you put the drum overhead mics. Your starting point for mic placement is rarely the best place for the mics, but you’ll never discover the optimal place if you simply settle with your first move.

TRR102 Don't Settle With Your Drum Overheads Sound

Via recordinghacks Flickr

80% Of Your Drum Sound

I record and mix with the philosophy that the drum overheads are 80% of your drum sound. Consequently I believe they deserve 80% of the time and attention in the recording phase. All to often we’ll throw up all the mics (overheads, close mics, room mics), record a bit, listen back, and say “Yeah, that sounds like a drum set.” If you’re just doing a demo, that’s a reasonable approach to take. But if you are trying to do real recording, then my friends, you are only at the beginning of your drum sound.

A Game Of Inches

This past weekend we held the first ever Simply Recording Academy in Nashville, TN. It was 2 days of intense recording and mixing training headed up by my buddy Joe Gilder and yours truly. On Day 1 we had the privilege of record a new song from a killer local band Manic Bloom, and we literally spent the entire morning getting a drum sound, with most of that being dedicated to drum overheads.

What I wanted to teach the guys is that not only does the overhead mic placement technique affect the sound greatly (Spaced pair, XY, etc), but how close or far away from the kit itself can make just as big of a difference. For example, if you like the overall drum sound from the overheads, but the cymbals seem harsh or overpowering, simply moving the mics up 5 inches can totally change the balance for the better.

But instead of me talking about it, how about I let you hear the differences yourself. We covered two main overhead mic techniques at the workshop, XY and Recorder Man. Below you can hear the original placement of the mics and then compare that to our second placement. Pay attention to the slight difference in balance of cymbals to drums. It’s amazing what a few inches will do.

XY – Original Placement

We started with a standard XY placement of the two large diaphragm condensers a few feet directly above the center of the kit.

[audio:XYOriginal.mp3|titles=XY Original Placement]

XY – 5 Inches Higher

We then moved both mics up about 5 inches from their original position. Still XY, just further away from the drum kit. Notice the balance between cymbals and other drums change. Less cymbals compared to say the kick and snare. Nice.

[audio:XYHigher.mp3|titles=XY 5 Inches Higher]

Recorder Man – Original Placement

Using the infamous Recorder Man technique as an overhead pair, we placed one mic directly above the center of the snare, with the second mic over the right shoulder of the drummer pointed down at the beater side of the kick drum. Both mics were measured from the center of the kick and snare equally.

[audio:RecorderManOriginal.mp3|titles=Recorder Man Original Placement]

Recorder Man – 5 inches Lower

As Recorder Man typically gives you a more drum focused sound (rather than room focused) in order to get more focus on the kick and snare rather than the cymbals, we actually lowered the mics closer to the kit. It seems to tighten things up a bit.

[audio:RecorderManLower.mp3|titles=Recorder Man 5 Inches Lower]

Lesson Of The Day? Take Your Time

At the end of the day your drum overheads are the most critical part of your recorded drum sound when it comes to microphones. It’s worth it to take 80% of your drum mic placement time on those two mics, making small tweaks here and there, listening for just the right balance. If you take your time in this phase of the game, close miking and mixing drums in general will be a much easier (and more enjoyable) process!