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Recording Drums at PKO - Part 2

isppko17
Foto: Pitu López

30 mics were placed around a drum set to show some of the most common microphone techniques used to record acoustic drums.

This second part of the article covers stereo techniques with two and more microphones, and also multi-mic setups and room/ambience mics.

All audio files are available to download.

The original version of this article, in Spanish, was published in ISP Música. Some sections have been updated since then. Pictures: Pitu López.

This is the second part of a feature about microphone techniques commonly used to record acoustic drums.

The first installment covered mono techniques with one and two microphones. It is recommended to have a look at it before continuing with this one, as the details regarding the actual instrument, song structure, audio files nomenclature, etc. are explained there.

In this second part, it is the turn of the stereo mic techniques with two, three and four microphones, as well as the multi-mic setup with ambience/room mics, which is so common currently.

Download the audio files using the link included at the beginning of the article, import them into your DAW, and there we go.

Fig. 1: details of the mics in this second part
ID. File Name Instrument Type of Microphone Model Position Approx. Distance (cm) Approx. Height (cm) Polar Pattern
4 OH_XY_L Drums SDC, XY Neumann KM 184 Overhead   130 Cardioid
5 OH_XY_R Drums SDC, XY Neumann KM 184 Overhead   130 Cardioid
6 OH_AB_L Drums LDC, spaced pair AB Neumann U67 Overhead   100 Cardioid
7 OH_AB_R Drums LDC, spaced pair AB Neumann U67 Overhead   100 Cardioid
8 OH_REAR_L Drums LDC, spaced pair AB Neumann U67 Behind both sides of the drummer   130 Cardioid
9 OH_REAR_R Drums LDC, spaced pair AB Neumann U67 Behind both sides of the drummer   130 Cardioid
15 SALA_A_L Sala LDC, Blumlein Sony C48 Room/Ambience mics 380 140 Bidireccional (figure-of-8)
16 SALA_A_R Sala LDC, Blumlein Sony C48 Room/Ambience mics 380 140 Bidireccional (figure-of-8)
17 SALA_B_L Sala LDC, spaced pair AB Neumann M49 Room/Ambience mics 480 220 (270 apart) Cardioid
18 SALA_B_R Sala LDC, spaced pair AB Neumann M49 Room/Ambience mics 480 220 (270 apart) Cardioid
22 SN_UP_A Snare Dynamic Shure SM57 Top head 6   Cardioid
23 SN_UP_B Snare SDC Earthworks SR69 Top head 6   Cardioid
24 SN_DW_A Snare Dynamic Shure SM57 Top Head 6   Cardioid
25 SN_DW_B Snare SDC Neumann KM 184 Top Head 6   Cardioid
26 T1 Tom Dynamic Sennheiser MD421 Top Head 8   Cardioid
27 T2 Tom Dynamic Sennheiser MD421 Top Head 8   Cardioid
28 T3 Tom Dynamic Sennheiser MD421 Top Head 8   Cardioid
29 HH HiHat SDC AKG 451 Top Cymbal 10   Cardioid
30 RIDE Ride SDC AKG 451 Top Cymbal 15   Cardioid

Fig. 2: posición aproximada de los micros en la sala. No se muestra la microfonía cercana para facilitar la consulta de la imagen.Fig. 2: approximate position of each mic in the room. For clarity's sake, only room mics and OHs are shown (close mics are not shown)

Two mics stereo

As mentioned in the previous article, the step from using one microphone to employing two usually comes from the need to reinforce the sound of the kick when an overhead microphone is used to record the whole instrument.

Of course, the use of two mics may also be motivated by the desire to capture a stereo sound from the instrument. In this case, any of the regular stereo techniques available (XY, ORTF, NOS, Spaced Pair, Blumelin, etc.) can be used, each of them with their own strengths and advantages.

For example, mics #03/#04 are two Neumann KM184 in XY configuration, centred over the kit at about 130cm from the top head of the snare. This coincident pair offers a well-balanced sound of the instrument, with a solid stereo image:

#03/#04 OH XY (Neumann KM184)

Let us listen now to mics #06/#07, a spaced array (commonly referred to as 'AB' pair) formed by two Neumann U67 placed over the kit at about 1m. If these mics are fully opened L and R, as you would expect, the stereo image will be much wider than that offered by the XY pair:

#06/#07 OH AB (Neumann U67)

However, this wider stereo image is obtained at the expense of opening the door to possible phase problems when the mics are summed into mono. Therefore, special care must be taken when placing these two mics. Checking how they behave when panned into the same position is paramount.

Img. 1: In the foreground is the rear spaced pair with mics #08-#09. At the top, from left to right, mic #07 (U67 from the overhead spaced pair), mic #02 (KM184 from the Recorderman technique), mic #01 (ribbon mono overhead) and the second U67 from the overhead AB (mic #06). Other mics are also visible, such as the 'side' mic of the Recorderman technique (#03).Img. 1: In the foreground is the rear spaced pair with mics #08/#09. At the top, from left to right, mic #07 (U67 from the overhead spaced pair), mic #02 (KM184 from the Recorderman technique), mic #01 (ribbon mono overhead) and the second U67 from the overhead AB (mic #06). Other mics are also visible, such as the 'side' mic of the Recorderman technique (#03).

It is common to close a little the panning position of this AB pair, because when the mics are fully opened L and R the stereo image may become too wide, somehow unnatural (although maybe that is exactly what is needed in some cases). Closing the width of the stereo position of the mics also helps in focusing the centre image, and thus the snare.

Experiment in your DAW, varying the level and stereo position of mics #06/#07 until you find a balance that you like. For example, in the next audio example the mics are at about 40% left and right, which still offer a stereo image a little wider than the XY technique:

#06/#07 OH AB, closed at about 40%

Another thing to note is that the balance between the different elements of the drum kit is different with the spaced overhead pair, in part consequence of having changed the relative distance of the different elements to each microphone.

For example, you may have noticed that the AB technique better maintains the balance between the different toms, as one of the mics (#07) is closer to the 'outer' tom (details on the kit in the first part of the article). This difference is more evident in the intro and final parts of the arrangement.

Aside from positions and distances, the differences between both techniques also come from the fact that the microphones are quite different, both in terms of diaphragm size and electronics (the U67 is a 'valve' mic, whereas the KM184 does not use this element).

To listen more effectively to these differences, close the panning of the spaced pair and quickly change between them.

Img. 2: Overhead mics details. The XY pair (#04-#05) is at the top, underneath is the M160 (#01). On the left is the AB pair (#06-#07) and on the right is the OH Recorderman (#02).Img. 2: Overhead mics details. The XY pair (#04/#05) is at the top, underneath is the M160 (#01). On the left is the AB pair (#06/#07) and on the right is the OH Recorderman (#02).

Another way of obtaining a general sound of the drum kit is to position a stereo pair near the place where the head of the drummer is, or behind the musician.

In the first case, you could employ an ORTF or a NOS pair to mimic the sound the musician is listening to at his/her position (just be careful that the mics do not affect the musician's performance).

The second option is to use a spaced pair behind the drummer, one microphone at each side. For the article, this second option was preferred as it allowed comparing the 'behind' AB pair with the previous 'overhead' AB.

The 'behind' spaced pair is formed by mics #08/#09, a new couple of Neumann U67, in this case placed behind the drummer, a little farther away from the kit (130cm). The differences both in position and distance (compared with mics #06/#07) cause tonal variations in all the elements, especially in the cymbals and toms.

Similarly to the previous spaced pair, it is common to close the panning of these mics, as they may offer a 'too' wide stereo image in some circumstances.

#08/#09 OH REAR (Neumann U67)

As it will be mentioned in the multi-mic setup section, it is common to 'build' the sound of the whole drum kit starting with the overhead mics.

If you compare the three stereo techniques just seen (#04/#05, #06/#07 and #08/#09), it is evident that the starting point would be quite different, just by choosing one stereo technique or another.

Stereo Room/Ambience

Turning our attention to the stereo room/ambience mics, the pair #15/#16 is formed by two Sony C48, in a Blumlein configuration. They were placed at a height of 140cm, 4m away from the kit.

#15/#16 SALA A (Sony C48, Blumlein config.)

They offer a very equilibrated drum sound, with a solid stereo image.

Img. 3: This is how the AKG C12 saw the room. On left and right are mics #17-#18, and centred below is the Blumlein pair (#15-#16).Img. 3: This is how the AKG C12 saw the room. On left and right are mics #17/#18, and centred below is the Blumlein pair (#15/#16).

The next couple of mics is a new AB pair, formed by two Neumann M49 positioned 220cm off the floor, and about 5m away from the kit (270cm apart from each other).

#17/#18 SALA B (Neumann M49, spaced pair)

Being at positions so distant from each other, these mics capture quite different signals. This results in a very wide stereo image, but as before, it can present phase problems and it is also common to close the panning of the mics.

Three mics

Similarly to the transitioning from one to two mics, going from two to three usually arises from the need to reinforce the kick drum sound when a stereo OH pair is being used to capture the whole instrument.

Experiment in your DAW with the audio files. Try combining the XY pair (#04/#05) with the different kick drum microphones (#19, #20, #21). You will again notice the different nuances each kick mic has to offer.

Inversely, choose one of the kick mics and combine it with the different stereo pairs available: overhead XY (#04/#05), overhead AB (#06/#07), rear AB (#08/#09), room Blumlein (#15/#16) and room AB (#17/#18).

The resultant drum sound will vary radically by only changing microphone types, distances and techniques. Without using any kind of processor, the overall drum sound may seem more modern, vintage, aggressive, close, far, warm, etc.

View from the right side of the set.View from the right side of the set.

A very popular three-mic setup is the Glynn Johns technique, named after the renowned engineer who developed it in the 1970s.

This setup uses one microphone over the snare and a second microphone – usually called the 'side mic' – at the side of the floor tom, at the same distance from the snare as the first microphone. When these mics are panned fully L and R, a nice and solid image of the drum kit is formed, which then is reinforced with a spot mic in the kick (the third microphone of the technique).

It is a very easy, effective and natural way of capturing the whole set, which you have probably heard hundreds of times when listening to classic albums (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc.).

In this case, as the drum pattern contained a lot of toms hits, Caco suggested using a variation of the Glynn Johns technique, usually referred to as Recorderman.

The variation consists of changing the position of the side microphone. It is also placed at the same distance from the snare as the overhead microphone, but in this setup behind the drummer (on the right). This change in position increases the definition in the toms.

You may listen to this technique using microphones #02 and #03 (available to download in part 1). Open them full L and R, and add then any of the kick mics. Just three mics make a great sound:

#02/#03/#019 Recorderman, plus mic #19 (kick)

If you want to further this approach, try substituting the kick mic with any of the front mono mics (#10, #11, #12), and experiment with the level and panning of the overhead and side mics. For example, this is the result of positioning them at about 60%, and combined with mic #12 (Manley Gold):

#02/#03/#12 Recorderman (closed 60%) combined with mic #12

As was mentioned in the first part, these front mics usually have a more pronounced kick sound so, even if you lose some of the immediacy obtained with the close kick mics, you will be gaining a sound with much more room and ambience.

And if we return to the concept of a mono drum sound, there are also many different options with three microphones.

For example, try combining the overhead mic #01 (ribbon) with some room sound (#13, #14) and add later a little reinforcement from any of the spot mics in the kick.

In general, experiment with different combinations of kick mics, one of the overheads (#1, #2, #3) or front mics (#10, #11, #12) and one of the mono room mics (#13, #14).

Notice that each microphone type presents a different colour due to its transducer and position, so when combined, they offer very different images and feelings of the very same instrument.

Four mics

You have probably already thought about this; in some of the combinations tried so far the snare lacked some definition, or it could be useful to have a little more control over it.

A common element in both Glynn Johns and Recorderman techniques is to use a fourth microphone: a spot mic in the snare. In fact, these techniques appear in some texts as 'four-mic' techniques because this second spot mic is very common.

Img. 4: Detail of the mics in the snare.Img. 4: Detail of the mics in the snare.

Mic #22 is the tried and tested Shure SM57, positioned 6cm off the top head of the snare – just a little inside the rim – aiming towards the centre of the head. It is a classic position, and very effective.

#22 SN UP A (Shure SM57)

And to be able to compare the sound of a dynamic microphone versus that offered by a condenser in this position, side by side with the SM57 was mic #23, an Earthworks SR69:

#23 SN UP B (Earthworks SR69)

The distinct sound imparted by each mic is evident, and the differences would be even clearer had the pattern in the snare been different (for example, a drum part being played with brushes), as the condenser mic would typically capture much more detail than the dynamic.

Open mics #02/#03, and gradually add a kick and a snare microphone (for example #20 and #22). Experiment with different panning and levels, until you get a balance between the different drum elements that you like. This is a great drum sound with only four microphones.

#02/#03/#20/#22 Recorderman, plus kick #20 and snare #22

And now that we have entered the realm of using a separate kick and snare mic, there are many possibilities using four microphones.

You may replace the Recordeman mics with any of the overhead pairs (#04/#05, #06/#07, #08/#09), or even stereo room pairs (#15/#16, #17/#18).

An interesting point of view is obtained by combining mics #20 and #22, and then adding the mono room mic #14 (an AKG C12). If you need more definition, you could add overhead mic #01.

#20/#22/#14/#01 Snare and kick mics, plus mono oh and room

Another interesting option is to combine mics #02/#03 with any of the stereo overhead or room pairs.

If you need a more distant drum sound, you could use the snare mic #22, add the front mic #12 until you have a good balance of kick and snare, and then summing a little of stereo room #17/#18, panned 100% open. If you close the latter a little more – about 60% – and increase their level, you will see that the kit goes farther aback.

#22/#12/#17/#18 Snare and front mics, with AB room

In this last example, it would be very easy to opt for a five-mic technique if a more powerful and present kick sound was needed. Just add mic #19 if you need a sound with more attack, #20 or #21 if you are after a more rounded sound.

So, as you can see, once the different possibilities each position and mic type have to offer are clear, it is not that important exactly how many mics you use. You just build the drum sound beginning with one of them, and then start adding the elements you need to obtain the desired result.

Multi-mic setup

This brings us to the multi-mic setup so common nowadays, in which it is usual to place one mic in each element of the set (or even more – usually kick and snare uses more than one mic), plus overhead, front and room/ambience mics.

One of the benefits of this approach is that you have much freedom to define the drum sound, even if later the mix follows a path that was not expected beforehand.

In the song example we used, as the drum pattern leant heavily on the toms in certain passages, it was clearly useful to position a spot mic on each tom, so to have more options to play with them in the mix.

Mics #26, #27 and #28 are three Sennheiser MD421, one per tom. It is habitual to use dynamic microphones in these elements, although again, in music styles 'less energetic' a condenser mic may provide more detail.

#26 T1 (Sennheiser MD421)

#27 T2 (Sennheiser MD421)

#28 T3 (Sennheiser MD421)

Experiment now by choosing one of the stereo overheads, adding a kick and a snare mic, and then bringing in gradually the three tom mics (panned at the centre, at this moment).

Once you have a balance you like, experiment by changing to the other overhead mics, to check the sound each of them provides now that more mics are involved.

When using stereo overheads, each tom is usually panned to the position it occupies in the stereo image coming from the OHs, although it can be panned to the opposite side as an effect. Try also experimenting with different panning positions of the tom mics.

As you can see, now there are endless possibilities: each mono or stereo overhead offers a different 'point of view' of the whole instrument, to which different front, room and spot mics may be added to obtain additional colours and depth.

Img. 5: Details of the MD421 on toms 1 and 2, and the AKG 451 on the ride.Img. 5: Details of the MD421 on toms 1 and 2, and the AKG 451 on the ride.

For example, with this drum pattern, the spaced pair #06/#07 combines very nicely with the toms, offering a very wide image of the set. If you add a kick and snare mic you will already have all the main elements represented, and to add proximity and definition to the cymbals you could use any of the overhead mics.

You could also bring in any of the front mics to increase the front to back depth of the instrument (with this combination, mic #10 works very well), or add one or more stereo room mics to increase the perceived size of the instrument (for example, #17/#18).

Kick

As was mentioned in the previous article, it is quite common with modern recording techniques to use two or more microphones to obtain a kick sound that is well defined, but that also has weight and body.

#19 KC IN (AKG D112)

Mic #19 is a D112 placed inside the shell, which offers a good amount of attack from the beater. This may be combined with mics #20 or #21 to add weight to the sound.

#20 KC OUT A (AKG D12)

The D12 presents a more 'retro' sound, whereas the U47 – an LDC – is commonly positioned in front of the kick (of course any other LCD will also work).

#21 KC OUT B (Neumann U47 FET)

Due to their position, mics placed outside the kick tend to capture also other drum elements, so you may see mics at this position covered with blankets to minimise the spill, and/or being equalised with a low-pass filter.

Snare

In a similar way, it is also common to place more than one microphone on the snare drum, typically one mic to capture the top head and another to record the bottom (wires).

Mics #24 and #25 were placed beneath the snare. The first is a dynamic microphone (SM57), and the second is a SDC (Neumann KM184). Comparing both, it is easy to distinguish the different ways of 'painting' the same element each microphone has to offer:

#24 SN DW A (Shure SM57)

#25 SN DW B (Neumann KM184)

Usually, the polarity of these mics needs to be flipped when they are combined with a mic placed on top of the snare (this has already been done in the audio files provided).

Hi-hat and RideHi-hat and Ride

Hi-hat and Ride

And, finally, it is also common to use additional spot mics to have a better control over other elements of the set, typically the hi-hat and ride. Mics #29 and #30 are two AKG451, used to capture respectively those elements.

#29 HH (AKG 451)

#30 RIDE (AKG 451).

(In this reduced audio excerpt the ride is not being played; you can better listen to this mic in action using the whole audio files).

Depending on the way the drum sound is built (particularly on how the overhead mics are treated), you might find that you do not need these spot mics, although having them at hand may prove very useful in many situations.

Conclusions

In the journey taken to record a drum set, from using only one microphone, to deploying a multi-mic setup, we have seen that there are many possibilities and in-between options.

The important thing is to be aware of them, as this will allow you to decide which is the best way to record the instrument, depending on the sound you are after. Sometimes, for a certain song, the drum set might be represented better using only one or two mics, rather than 12.

As we have seen, you can obtain a powerful, defined and well balanced drum sound with very few mics, and remember no filters, EQ, compressors or any other processing unit has been used in the audio files. There were still several other tools at our disposal to refine the sound.

However, when recording any instrument, it is important to take the time to change mics, positions, angles, etc. until you are completely satisfied with the sound being captured. It is only then that you should start thinking about using a little touch of EQ, compression, etc. to improve the sound further.

Thanks

I would like to thank to all the staff and management of PKO for their great work and hospitality.

Special mention to Caco, not only for his superb work during the recording session, but also for his ideas during the preparation and planning of the article.

Thanks also to Rober Aracil, for lending us his sound, equipment and expertise... but also for his patience, as the setup was longer than usual. 30 mics are a lot of mics.

Rober uses Santa Fe drums, Evans heads and Zildjian cymbals.

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