If I were to give any one of you “producers in the making” a drum kit, and your choice of any mics to set up on the kit, there’s a fairly good chance that a good number of you would set up the mics in the same way. You’d put a matched pair of condensers above the kit- a left and a right, a D-6, D-112, or large diaphragm mic on the kick, a 57 on top of the snare, a small pencil mic on the snare bottom, and probably some M421′s on the toms. I would probably do the same, until recently. We do this because we are raised to believe that this is how you mic a drum kit. And it works- kind of. But by following tradition, we neglect the MOST useful tool we have as producers- our ears.
I’m going to admit something embarrassing. I just now discovered the music of Amy Winehouse. Elsie and I were driving in the car recently, and the song “Rehab” came on. I instantly turned it up, and asked Elsie, “Who the hell is this?!?”. The production sounded amazing- flawless to my ears. Yes, I’m a bit late to the party, but if you know me, this may not be all that surprising. Thus began the journey of researching every detail I could find about the sound of this record. This journey led me to research Gabriel Roth and the Daptones Studio in Brooklyn.
There’s a great article here about how he works. You should read it. But I’d like to highlight one thing he says in the article-
“One of the big problems with modern engineering is everyone telling everyone else how they put this microphone here and another there, and you have to use this condenser for overheads and this large-diaphragm condenser for the kick, and so on. Once it becomes a formula, people stop using their ears.”
After reading this, it occurred to me that I’d stopped using my ears to dictate mic placement, I relied on tradition. So, last week I started running experiments with different mic placements. And for starters, I tried something he mentioned:
“From the drummer’s point of view, if you looked down between the snare and the kick drum, you’d see it about a foot or two away from the snare,” he explains. “The second microphone is often in the same spot as the first but adds different frequencies. Sometimes the one and only mic is over or behind the drummer’s head. Sometimes the only mic is a Radio Shack dynamic.”
So, I set up one mic this way (between the kick and snare, but back a foot). Now, you may be thinking, “Wait, you’re doing the thing you were trying to avoid, putting the mic’s where someone told you to put them!”. Yes, this is true, but only for a starting point. I set up a mic in a “Gabriel Roth” fashion, and then started moving that mic around until it sounded balanced. After some experimentation, I set up a second mic near the first one, but pointed it more towards the kick drum. By the way, I tried this with every mic I owned, and for the beat that I was playing, the winner was not my Neumann M149. The winner was a (mildly priced) Octava MKL 2500! That mic was sitting in it’s case for the last three years!
I had to apologize to her for all of those lonely years of neglect. I ran this mic and a second 2500 through my Trident channel strip, and found glorious results after spending some time messing with the EQ. I also found that I got very different- and very rewarding results by rotating these mics to different angles. But the important lesson here is not that I found a cool easy way to record drums with two mics. The lesson here, is that by trying something I’d never tried, I got a sound I’ve never obtained. Use your ears. If anyone is interested, I could post some samples on here of my results. Thanks for reading.