How to mic up a whole drum kit & the case for doing so

Posted by admin on August 3, 2012


This is a very hotly debated topic, and I'll give you my stance.

You can mic a drum kit up with 2 overheads and a kick drum mic. I've heard of people only using 2 OHs and getting good results. Particularly on smaller events/venues, this is the reality and the issues are outlined below with miking up a full drum kit, but once you hit a certain level it becomes advantageous to mike up the whole kit (even if you don't need to necessarily and you're getting a great sound, why not experiment?)

The benefits of miking up a whole drum kit instead of just OHs:

  • You can get better gain before feedback
    On louder events where drums are a key instrument, this method will allow you to turn the drums up louder before they start to feed back. This is because the clip-on mics are much closer to the drums than the OHs are, and are typically dynamic mics and not condensers.
  • The drums are less likely to be out of phase
    If you have just 2 OHs and a kick covering the whole kit, the kick sound will hit the kick drum mic first then the OHs, creating a reverby sound that you may not want and may lose punchiness to the sound. Furthermore, the toms could be out of phase as they hit one OH and then the other side.
  • Better balance of drums
    With 2 OHs, naturally the sound coming from their direct axis is going to be louder than the drums further away. This is specially true of larger kits, and the only way you could possibly rectify this is by compressing the OHs...which isn't going to help your feedback issues. With the full mic up you will be able to get a better balance of the cymbals and the harsh highs to the usually subdued toms.


Drum Shield CageStep 1: A drum cage

This will go a long way to giving you control over the drums as the sound engineer. It is basically a big plastic surround that goes around the kit and sometimes has an acoustically-padded ceiling. Can be expensive but it reduces sound coming from the drums to other instruments, aka 'bleed' (and vice-versa, so you will need to get your monitor mixes right).

There are many different variations and sizes available.




AKG Drum packStep 2: Add in lots of mics...

  • Kick: Different methods of miking this up, but if you want a more sub-bass feel, pull the mic slightly away from the hole. The rush of air from the entire drum will hit the mic. DON'T put it in line with the whole, it loses punch there. Closer to the beaterhead will give you a more trebly sound, good for speakers with less bass punch. Sometimes you can have a kick mic and also something like a SM57 on the beaterhead to get a nice blended balance between the attack of the head and the boom of the drum, but don't forget: one of these mics is going to be out of phase, so use the phase or polarity switch to help this. Typically a dynamic mic will be used here due to large SPLs from the drum: something maybe like an AKG D112 or Audix D6. Have heard of people using a 50p coin taped to where the beaterhead hits to get a more defined sound - yet to try!
  • Snare: An SM57 is always a great choice, sometimes seen a 57 on top and 57/58 on the bottom for the clack sound. Again, watch the phase. A clip on dynamic may be better here as the snare takes a lot of hits and you don't want your mic drifting out of place. Can use a good condenser on the snare too as it is so loud so you can keep gain down.
  • Toms: Lots of dynamic clip on mics available to use here. Many manufacturers from Shure, Sennheiser, Samson, AKG... the list goes on.
  • Cymbals: If you really had the budget you could use a condenser per cymbal but usually a good OH per a cluster of cymbals is fine. Good mics for this include AKGs (usually C1000Ss or C414Bs) or sE or many condensers. You can use pencil (small diaphragm) or large diaphragm mics for this, a good idea would be to place them in shock mounts to keep them steady and maybe on acoustic foam padding on the mic stands to stop the reverberation from the kick coming through.
  • Hi-Hat: An SM58 at 90° off-axis on the hi-hat has always been great for me, or a small pencil mic facing straight down on top.

Step 3: ...and setup on desk

I would soundcheck the kick and then snare first, to get the 2 crucial drums sorted. Then in turn each mic on toms/cymbals/hi-hat etc. Then get the drummer to play a beat and balance the kit levels as well as make any fine-tuning to the EQ in the context of the whole drum set. Helpful frequencies:

Kick: Punch @ 30Hz-100Hz, Attack of beaterhead betwen 3kHz-5kHz
Snare: Ring @ ~900Hz, Fullness @ 120Hz-240Hz, Attack between 2kHz-5kHz
Cymbals/Hi-Hat: Clang @ ~200Hz, Presence @ ~3kHz, Shimmer above 7.5kHz
Toms: Floor [ Fullness: 80Hz-120Hz, Attack @ ~5kHz ], Rack [ Fullness: 200Hz - 400Hz, Attack @ 5kHz - 7kHz ]

I would also send the entire kit through a group or VCA so you have control in one slider. Be aware that some musicians like the kick or snare through their monitor slightly to help keep them in time. More notes:

  • HPF the cymbals as high as possible (learn more about the HPF)
  • HPF the snare and rack toms
  • Be careful to not add too much bass to the kick or you may end up with distortion
  • Make sure the floor tom sounds like a floor tom and not kick drum
  • Don't be too harsh on the mid sounds

If you can, why you should mic up a drum kit:

  • In bigger rooms, you start to lose the punch of the kick and snare beat that often carries upbeat songs, and cymbals become overly-loud in relation to the whole kit as the high frequencies travel better.
  • Behind a drum cage and acoustic padding, you can keep the drummer quiet by riding the faders

Limitations of miking up a drum kit

Cost: Mics are expensive!
Channel real estate: not all desks have enough channels.
Physical real estate: a lot of mic stands and a large kit could potentially take up quite a bit of space.
Already too loud: Particularly in small rooms or resonating halls, the drummer is already too loud!

But if you can, give it a go!


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