FilmInstituteThe drum kit can be one of the most time-consuming and frustrating of instruments to record, so it's worth taking a structured approach. Abbey Road Senior Recordist Matt Jones provides some useful pointers and guidance on how to record drums effectively with the resources available.
Matt Jones on Drum RecordingI think with drums more than any other thing, it’s easy to get carried away and put out too many mics. You can end up with loads that you don’t use, or you feel compelled to use them in a mix, but actually, they don’t really bring anything to the sound.
As soon as you start having several pairs of room mics in different places, and then you bring out all these weird mono mics and stuff that you think might be fun, suddenly you’ve just got a 30-track-wide, phase-y mess. And no time on the session to actually get any of the mics in the right position. Though it’s fun to experiment with a new mic technique or two each time, it’s always good to make sure that it’s the last thing you pay attention to once your foundation is solid.
As far as that foundation goes, it varies from genre to genre and kit to kit. But I often find myself using Neumann U67s or similar as overheads, and they just sound nice and full and compress in a good way if the drummer is hitting properly. I try to keep them reasonably low to avoid too much room on those. Obviously, close mics on all the individual drums, too. For close mics, it depends on what you’re working on, but I’m a fan of things like the Beyerdynamic M 201, on snares for sure. I like a Neumann FET47 on a tom if you’ve got room to get it in there.I always try to get the close mics pointing at the part of the drum head where the drummer is actually hitting, rather than more towards the rim. I don’t know if that harks back to my metal upbringing, but I’m always a fan of plenty of smack on the close mics. I like that definition. As far as room mics go, I usually put out a stereo pair of something omnidirectional. That could be some DPAs or Schoeps or a pair of Neumann valves, like the M 50s if you’re being luxurious.
The other thing I normally put out is a ribbon mic in front of the kit, but it often ends up being more inside the kit. I try to point it as much towards the kick and snare as I can, but the main objective is to have the null axis of the figure-of-eight pointing at the cymbals. This is so you get as little of the cymbals as possible and mostly kick and snare.Then when you come to mix, this is the mic that takes a beating in the compressor world and you just end up smashing it to get that really chunky foundation. You often can’t get away with using too much of it in the sound, but it can give you that good mono base to add everything else to.
I’d usually use a Coles 4038. And I’d position it about a foot or two away from the snare and kick. It often ends up next to a crash, actually. If you think it’s going to get hit by a drummer, move it back further.
In fact, talking about destroying microphones, another good tip is to never be afraid to ask the drummer if your mics are in their way. I like to get the tom mic pointing at where the stick hits the drum, but I’d rather have a tom mic that I had to add a bit of top-end back into later because it was slightly off-axis and further back. That’s infinitely preferable to a tom mic that’s in pieces on the floor because the drummer has done an enthusiastic fill and completely taken it out. I think that’s an often overlooked aspect of positioning drum mics: don’t let your drummer smash your mics up!