How to Set up Overhead Drum Mics for Optimal Recordings

Let’s get real for a minute. A drum kit is one of the hardest instruments to record, especially if you’re aiming for perfection when it comes to sound, range and quality. However, getting it right will reward you with a sweet and satisfying sound that you and your listeners will adore.

While a challenge, recording the perfect drum sounds isn’t impossible, but it does require patience, perseverance, and the knowledge to know what you’re doing. Today, we’re going to explore a foolproof process for setting up overhead mics for recording that perfect sound, ensuring you get it right every time.

Foreword

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of different ways to set up your overhead drum mics, quite possibly an infinite amount. Of course, your own setup will depend on your personal preferences, and there’s no reason why you can’t experiment with what works best for you.

However, below we’re going to explore the considerations you’ll need to be thinking about when setting up your mics, helping you master the basics, so you can capture that perfect sound you’ve been looking for.

Setting Up Your Drums Correctly

Perhaps the most important aspect to consider for recording your drum kit isn’t to do with the microphones at all but actually comes down to how you’re setting up your drum kit. If you’ve set up your drum kit incorrectly, or poorly, it’s going to be impossible to record them professionally.

This takes experience and professional knowledge to achieve, and if you don’t know how to do it yourself, it’s well worth getting an expert to help. If you’re working in a recording studio, you should be able to ask the technician on hand.

At a very minimum, you’ll want to conduct online research into how to set up your drum kit. Once set up, you’ll then want to make sure your drum kit is tuned correctly to ensure that it’s producing the best sound possible. Be sure to retune your drum kit every time you want to record.

photo by Flickr user Hans_Martin

The Room for Recording

Unlike other instruments, you can’t plug in your drum kit to record the sound, unless you’re using an electric drum kit. For traditional drum kits, you’re going to be using mics and overhead mics, both of which will be capable of picking up other sounds in the room.

This means you’ll need to pay attention to the room/studio you’re recording in, minimizing the risk of other external sounds interfering with your drum sounds.

Ideally, you’re going to want to record in a studio environment, but feel free to experiment with locations that have different acoustics to achieve the sound you’re looking for.

Setting Up Your Overhead Microphones

Now that you’ve set up your recording environment, you’re ready to start thinking about your microphones. No matter how many microphones you’re using, you’re always going to want to start with the overhead mics.

When positioning and securing your overhead mics, the idea is to capture the most balanced version of sound possible. Always remember that there’s no right or wrong way to record your sound, but you’re going to need to understand the mechanics of how a drum kit works.

For example, cymbals will resonate sound up and down from both angles. On the other hand, hi-hats generate their sounds in a horizontal direction. Visually this dynamic nature will help you imagine the best place to capture the best sound.

As a general rule of thumb, the ideal mic placement tends to fall two or three meters above the kit and will want to be positioned either slightly behind or in front of the kit, not directly above it. This, again, will depend on the mics you’re using and the type of sound you want to capture.

Experimenting with Positions

Every single drum kit in the world will sound different, and every band or artist will want to create their own unique sound. This is why there’s no definitive method for setting up your overhead mics.

Generally, it’s so important to take the time to experiment with the placement of your mics so you can find what works best for you. It might even be worth taking a day in a studio where you can play around with your positions to see what positions produce what sound.

Even better, if you can have someone with expert knowledge with you, they’ll be able to help explain the dynamics of the drum kit, which again will enable you to know exactly where you should be positioning your mics for the best sound.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and invest time in trying out different setups to see what works best for you. You should never have to settle with what you’re given when you walk in to record your drum parts.

About the Author

Gavin Whitner is a composer, songwriter and music blogger at MusicOomph. An avid sports fan, he’s a big fan of Mo Farah (Running) and Daniel Ricciardo (F1).

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