Experimenting With Drums

The Drums - By Shannon Cumming

My good friend Doctor Duck and I hit the Neve Studio for a short 4-hour session with the intention to practice micing up drums. I have some experience micing up drums but he had never miced up a drum kit before. Doctor Duck could actually play drums and I can’t really, so we made a good team. Our goal was to try a bunch of different micing techniques and compare them. So we decided to set up as many mics as possible and then record some drums and listen back, selecting different combinations of mics on the kit. These combinations were based on different micing techniques I have seen over the years.

Here is the Mic List:

Once we were all set up Doctor Duck got behind the drums and I got behind the desk, We checked levels and phasing, The overheads sounded really good and didn’t require any moving, I flipped the bottoms on the snare and toms to cancel the phasing. Then we recorded a few passes of the whole kit and Doctor Duck joined me in the console room to analyse different mic combinations. We wanted to listen to certain combinations and discuss what we would use them for.

Knee The Knee mic is a mic positioned just above the drummer's right knee and rumor is you can hear the whole kit with just this one mic. We just used an SM57 to see what it sounded like and it sounded surprisingly good. You could hear a good balance of every element of the kit. It sounded vintage and we immediately thought of the beastie boys. It was quite thin, so just for fun, we tried some parallel compression to fatten it up and got a great old-school hip-hop sound. The knee mic technique could potentially sound better with a large frame condenser mic. And I will definitely be experimenting with different mics, polar patterns, and variants of this position in the future. It could be just the extra element your drum sound needs and could be very useful for parallel compression. I would potentially use this mic technique in hip-hop or as an extra element in a punk or garage rock set up.

Kick, Snare, Overheads When I was growing up my dad played in the church band and this was how they always miced up the kit. So I thought as aspiring engineers we should try this stripped back technique in the studio. the overheads were quite effective at picking up the whole kit and the kick and snare mics just reinforced that. We listened to this with the top and bottom mic on the snare. The bottom mic on the snare really gives it more crack and could be a useful tool to have up your sleeve for the right situation. We also compared the Kick in and kick out. The kick in had more woof and the kick in had more presence when blended together they sounded alright but to be honest, we didn’t really get a great kick sound in this session and I think moving the kick out into just the right spot would help. We didn't end up using the Kick beater mic we had palnned either, due to a lack of decent stands. Using this type of technique you don’t get the definition of the toms you get from micing them individually and get more of a distant tom sound, which for the right band could be a good thing. I guess if you want to hear the backbeat but you don’t want the fills to be too overpowering, this technique would make sense. I would use this technique for a pop/rock or indie band where the drums are not really a focus.

Kick, Snare, Floor Tom Overheads This is essentially the same sort of technique as the one above with the key difference of micing the floor tom. This would be useful if you really want to emphasise the floor tom beats. We used this technique for the Permanent Revolution recordings, it allows for a distant sound on fills while still having a focus on the floor tom beats. I would use this technique for a punk band or a heavier pop/rock band that use the floor tom to play some of the main beats of the song to really emphasise those heavier parts of the song.

Video on micing toms, top and bottom

Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat. All Toms, Overheads While we wanted to focus on some simple techniques for future reference we also wanted to go all out. So we wanted to hear all the mics we had set up. We listened to the whole kit together with just the top mics, just the bottom mic and then both together. The Top mics pick up the snap of the stick hitting the skin while the bottom mics pick up the woof coming out of the bottom. This creates a huge sound and gives every individual drum sound it’s own place. We positioned the hi-hat mic right where the 2 cymbals meet to capture the air as it opens and closes. We tried the Hi-hat mic with and without the foam cover both gave quite a different sound. With the cover had more detail but a bigger sound difference between closed and opened which might call for some compression, whereas with the cover on it was a bit more muffled but more even. It actually sounded really cool I think I preferred it with the foam on. I have used this set up a lot when working as the assistant engineer with Daniel Hathaway, although he would always add a blumlein pair in the centre of the room and some boundary mics in the corners of the room. This is a huge sounding technique and i would primarily use it for Metal bands or pop/rock bands that want a “Big” sound. The advantage to this technique is you can pan every single element in its own place and create a good balance. It is a lot more work to set up and to mix but in the right circumstance, it’s worth it.

A quick reflection video on our session

The Glynn Jones Technique After we had tried all these techniques we wanted to try the Glynn Jones technique made famous by Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones. My main next project is a Led Zeppelin cover band and we will be using this technique, so I wanted to practice this first and get it just right. Kaab from the tech team said he had done a workshop on this technique and once we were set up to come and grab him and that he’d show us exactly how to check that it is all schmick. So after trying all the other techniques, we moved the overheads, this is what makes the Glynn Jones technique different. One overhead straight above the snare and the other on the right (drummer's perspective) back from the floor tom, above it and aiming straight at the snare.

Video on the Glynn Jones Technique with Alex Reeves

Once this was set up we went and got Kaab who checked our positioning, moved the right mic a bit lower than we had it and made sure it was lined up just right by measuring it with a spare lead. Then we went into the control room and checked the levels. He said if you can, always check the levels on the VU metres because it’s a truer reflection of the pressure of sound than a digital metre. We got the levels right and then panned the channels hard left and right and checked it against mono to check for phasing. He said when you go to mono if the frequency changes, you have phasing, we had the tiniest amount of the higher frequencies change but it was pretty good overall. Then in stereo, we got the Doctor to give us a solid kick and moved the panning until it sounded centred, we checked the snare too. We recorded a beat and a few fills. Kaab added that you can balance the stereo image with panning or with volume and proved this point by panning it hard right and left and then balanced the volume until the snare and kick sounded centred. We recorded some drumming with this and invited Doctor Duck in to have a listen to what we’de done. The result was awe-inspiring. With just 4 mics you get this huge panoramic stereo drum sound, it’s amazing how good it actually sounded and I will definitely be using this again. After Kaab left we moved the Mics out of position and zeroed it all back so we could try and do it ourselves. We managed to get it pretty close to the same sound but then it was time to pack up and get out. I would use this technique for a classic hard rock band or a blues based rock n roll band.

A quick reflection on our the Glynn Jones technique

All in all, we learned a lot and covered a lot of ground in a short session and I look forward to doing more of these in the future. As most of these techniques were from my own experiences and a way for me to share what I knew with the Doctor I had trouble finding links directly reflecting each of these setups to back up my decisions. The internet is a great tool, but sometimes life experience is even better. However, when looking for references to back up my decisions I found a whole bunch of other techniques. So we will run a similar session in the near future in which we do some research and gather some different drum micing techniques to try out.

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