Sound Advice: Drum Miking On A Budget.
You don’t need heaps of microphones and mixing console channels to effectively mic a drum kit for live use. We reckon pretty effective drum kit miking can be achieved with three microphones/channels and, if you’re on a budget, well under one hundred of your finest British pound notes.
We’ve all seen the pro drum miking set ups at gigs with a city of mic stands pointing at the kit. Ten to Fifteen mic/channel setups are not unusual in the pro/touring/stadium live music world, but for bands playing the smaller club/pub circuits effective drum miking can be achieved with much more modest equipment and budgets.
Of course, it’s not just the mic budget that may be the limiting factor. Bands may be using smaller mixing consoles with a limited number of channels available to the drums and the space available on smaller stages means rakes of boom mike stands around a kit may not be a practical proposition.
Naturally, the more mics and channels you have, the better. More separation of the elements of the kit can be achieved, and EQ and processing can be applied individually. Of course, more mics and elements can be added as budget and perhaps mixer channels become available, but we reckon the following approach is a great starting point.
Kick Drum Mic:
Probably the most important rhythmic element of the drum kit is the kick drum and there really is no substitute for a decent quality large diaphragm kick drum mic. Usually channel 1 on the mixing console, the kick drum mic should be capable of delivering a punchy modern bass drum sound with minimal EQ and/or processing with extended frequency response down to below 50hz.
The great news is that there are now great sounding models available at under £50 and they are often well built and up to life on the road.
So a good quality large diaphragm kick drum mic is the first essential element.
Obviously, the next essential element would be the snare. With a limit of 3 microphones it’s not going to be possible to offer separate mics for snare and hi’hat but these elements are usually positioned quite close together so provided we don’t use any gating on the snare mic then this will pick up some hi-hat. I’ve also noticed at recent gigs that I’ve attended as an audience member that the hi-hats tend to be quite low in the mix. So if you’re following trends, you may not need lots of hi-hats in the mix.
Now here we can go one of two ways in terms of mic choice. A clip on snare mic would certainly fit the bill in terms of small stage space-saving and budget, but another option may be a discreet pencil type condenser mounted on a stand. This might be more flexible in terms of positioning so you can adjust it to pick up more of the hi-hats, and most condenser have the high frequency response for cymbal type instruments (hi-hat) as well as offering the high sound pressure level capability required for a snare drum. So a couple of options there.
Budget-wise, again, the news is good with decent quality clip on dynamic models available for around £20 – £30 and maybe just a little more for the pencil/condenser solution, although you’ll need to budget for a stand for this option if you don’t already have one.
We only have one mic left, so this will need to cover the rest of the kit, but a carefully positioned pencil type condenser on a stand can certainly achieve this. It may not offer the separation of each individual element that we discussed before, but they are certainly capable of providing useful coverage of all your remaining crash, ride, and toms, at least on a modest/standard size drum kit.
The Next Step:
We think this three mic system is a great solution, but it’s also a great starting point which can be expanded upon. If you add more clip on tom mics to achive more coverage and element separation, then the overhead/condenser mic you may purchased can then be employed as a dedicated hi-hat microphone, etc.
Drums aren’t the most demanding of instruments to mike up. The shell type elements (snares/toms) tend to be pretty loud so you need mics that are particularly sensitive, but they need to handle high sound pressure levels. Even budget dynamic mics can handle such levels with ease, so you really don’t need expensive esoteric models for this.
Cymbals, although having a lot of complex high frequency content still tend to be pretty a loud and are not usually required to be particularly high in the mix. So condenser mics that can capture that high frequency content are great. But they don’t need to be overly sensitive and you don’t need them to have a particularly tight polar pattern to reject feedback since the gain controls on your mixing are unlikely to be ‘flat out’.
At The Noizeworks one of our most popular product ranges are drum mics and drum mic kits and we are often asked about beginning drum miking, particularly on a budget. So we hope you’ve found this little look at the subject useful and illuminating. Please feel free to contact us if you require any further help and advice on the subject, or the manufacturers/models that may be suitable for you.
This blog post was written by Simon Thompson. Soundman, musician, occasional DJ, and CEO/Proprietor of The Noizeworks Live music equipment suppliers extraordinaire! Based around East London/Essex. UK. He hopes you find it useful and helps in your artistic and professional endeavours…..but……as with all his blog posts, this information is offered in an informal basis and he accepts no responsibility for any circumstances arising out of the use of this information or the inability to interpret it, etc. blah…blah…..blah.