Although we typically provide guides to our readers on finding the best microphones out there, today we wanted to kick off our series of “How To’s” to help you actually use those nice mics you’ve purchased! Today, we understand miking a drumset can be tricky, and the setting in which you are miking the drums plays heavily into the proper mic setup. Whether you’re miking drums in a live setting, a garage, or a home studio, this guide should provide some useful tips for getting the best sound possible. There are hundreds of ways to mic drums, here are the ways I have found to get the optimal sound, organized by drum type. If you have any further questions, feel free to comment below, otherwise, happy drumming!
The best ways to mic a drumset
Miking drums live can be quite difficult. Without microphones, the only thing that is going to be heard clearly is usually the snare drum. Even when microphones are available, there might not be enough mics or channels to get everything. Here are methods for miking individual parts of the drumset in a live setting ordered by priority. With all of these mics, be very careful with your gain.
Drums are loud and subject to lots of bleeding over. This can lead to unintended levels as well as phasing. Use nice noise-canceling headphones when checking the EQ of the drums and only as much gain as you need to get the tone you’re looking for.
If you have one mic available for the drumset, use it on the bass drum. I’ve seen a surprisingly decent live sound with an SM57 condenser mic used on the bass drum, but typically you want to use a large diaphragm dynamic microphone. Most companies make microphones specifically designed for the bass drum and these are ideal because they mount directly onto a mic stand at a 90 degree angle, so there is no need for a mic clip. I would recommend the Shure Beta 52A dynamic kick mic, or check our best kick drum mic guide for more options.
If there is no hole in the front bass head, you’ll want to position the mic about 3-4” away from the drum and off-center towards about 5 o’clock.
If there is a hole in the bass drum, you’ll want to position the mic so that the diaphragm of the microphone is completely inside the drum, with the mic pointed slightly toward the shell of the drum. Be careful to not let the mic, mic stand, or cable make contact with the drum head, and remember that the front head can move up to an inch in or out when the bass drum is played depending on the tension of the head.
Some people may disagree with me that the hi-hats should be second on the list, but drummers spend a lot of time on this pair of cymbals and they often get lost in the sound of the guitar. You can use any small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone. I recommend the Audio Technica AT2021.
Position the microphone about 4-5” away from the hi-hat on the side furthest from the drummer. Make sure the microphone is pointed directly down towards the hi-hat and not angled towards the rest of the drumset.
Miking the snare drum is more about bringing out a drummer’s ghosted notes and making sure the entire tone of the drum can be heard. The biggest thing to consider here is space.
Some microphones designed specifically for the snare drum can be a bit bulky, especially when a wire is connected. I have seen convenient clip on microphones that have the XLR jack directly off the back of the microphone, so unless you’re using a 90 degree XLR cable, this might end up getting in the drummer’s way.
If a boom stand is available, the Shure Beta 56A dynamic instrument microphone is a good way to go. This microphone has its XLR jack directly above where is connects to the boom mic, so you can have your cable far out of the way if you position the boom stand to come from the drummer’s left, between the hi hat stand and the first rack tom. Make sure you position the microphone no more than 1.5” off the drumhead about 1” inside the shell. Aim the microphone almost directly perpendicular to the drumhead, tilted slightly towards the center of the drum.
Unless your drummer has lots of low hanging cymbals all over the place, the toms should be fairly easy to mic. Sennheiser makes a pretty nice mic, the Evolution E604, that clips on nicely to the rim of each drum. Position these mics just like the snare drum mic.
One thing to avoid is having the rack tom microphones angled towards one another. If possible, mount each clip at 12 o’clock on each drum, angled directly towards the center of the tom. This minimizes the possibility of picking up other toms. You’re going to get a little snare drum and kick drum in all of these mics no matter what, especially if the toms are mounted to the bass drum.
Cymbals & Overhead mics
This can be the trickiest part of miking a drum set and certainly is the least necessary in live settings. Overhead mics are going to pick up everything, and I mean everything. They’ll pick up the bass, the guitar, the monitors. By the time you’ve adjusted the gain to get all of that stuff out, you’re going to be left with almost nothing.
If you’re recording drums in a studio or a room where only the drums are being played, overhead mics can be the most important part of the overall mix. You’d be surprised what you can achieve with one overhead mic and one bass drum mic.
You can spend thousands of dollars on large diaphragm overhead drum mics. Overall, I have had the most success using a matched pair of small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones arranged in an X with the microphones crossed and pointing away from one another. The microphones should be at least one foot above the highest cymbal on the drum set and well clear of the drummer’s body while playing. A decent affordable option is the Samson C02 matched pair of mics.
Use these tips and you should be able to get a fairly decent sound without spending a fortune.