Don't let a modest stable of microphones keep you from achieving a great drum sound. Many recording engineers and live sound producers have learned how to mic a drum kit with 2 mics and get a killer sound, and you can, too. It's like they always say, "It's not about the equipment you have, it's how you use it."
I've used all of the following methods to get satisfactory drum sounds out of my drums (when I've played live or been recording) and the drums of clients (I often moonlight as the front-of-house mixer at a local music club and a recording engineer). Granted you'll be making compromises with only 2 microphones, but you can still get a great live sound or studio drum tone.
Why Only 2 Drum Mics?
While an entire assortment of drum mics is ideal, it's not very practical, especially for musicians on a budget (and as pro drummer, I can assure you that ALL drummers are on a very, very tight budget - we're not the highest paid lot in life). Maybe you can only afford two mics? Maybe you have more, but the others went out when you least expected? Maybe you're on trying to set up for a show right now and found out the venue that promised an entire drum mic package only included two.
Or maybe, just maybe, you're looking to experiment with sounds, and are wondering what you can get from a "less-is-more" approach to miking a drum kit.
Either way, I've been there. Literally. Every scenario I just described, I've been there. Unfortunately I didn't have the luxury of looking this kind of stuff up on line, I had to learn by trial and error. But that doesn't mean you have to. Part of the "brotherhood of drummers" dictates that we help one another out, so that's what I'm offering to you here - take it or leave it.
Different Set Ups For Different Drum Mic Combinations
Hopefully you know that there are several different kinds of microphones, and they each perform certain tasks better than others. I'm not going to make this a lesson in microphone technologies, but you should know the differences between the following types of drum mics:
- Kick drum mics
- Overhead drum mics
- Snare drum & tom mics
I grouped "snare drum" and "toms" together because you can often get away with using the same kind of mic for both kinds of drums. Is it ideal? Not necessarily, but we're going for minimalism here, remember? In a perfect world you'd have perfectly pitched mics for every drum, including your mounted toms and floor toms. But this isn't a perfect world, this is a two-mic world, and you're about to become king.
My point in all of this is that your two drum mic setup will vary based on the two microphones you have. Here's how I'd set up the mics in each combination:
One Kick Drum Mic, One Snare/Tom Mic
The only way to get a deep, solid "thud" out of your bass drum is with a purpose-built kick drum mic. While you have a little wiggle room in other areas of the kit, the bass drum won't come alive with anything other than a bass drum mic. Try miking a kick drum with any other kind of mic and you'll be very disappointed.
Anyway, since you have a kick drum mic, use it. If possible, use a short boom stand to get it inside the sound hole of the front bass drum head. How far you put it in is up to you, you'll have to experiment a little with placement; generally speaking the closer it is to where the kick drum pedal hits, the more snap you'll get, and moving it farther away from the pedal mellows it out to a more rounded "boom."
Don't have a sound hole in your bass drum head? Point the mic as close as possible to the drum head and experiment with different placements - try near the rim and directly in the center, and everything in between. But don't make the common mistake of trying to mic the bass drum batter head (the one that your pedal hits) from the outside of the drum. Not only will the mic get in your way as you're trying to play, the sound is god awful, even with the best mics and drums.
As for the snare/tom mic, you've got a couple of options. If your microphone is sensitive enough, you can try to use it as a "quasi-overhead." By that I mean back it off the drums and try to capture an "overall sound." This rarely works, because these kinds of mics aren't designed for this purpose, they're designed for close-miking techniques, meaning they should be awful close to the drum heads themselves.
So your best bet is to close-mic the top of your snare drum. Does that leave all those shiny mounted toms and floor toms unmiked in the mix? Yes. How about the cymbals? They're relatively unmiked, too (I say "relatively" because you'll be surprised at how much crash, ride and hi-hat get picked up by the snare mic. So yeah, it's just a snare drum mic. That's just the way it goes. Maybe you'll need to retrofit those big drum fills into more subtle snare drum kicks or drum rolls?
The advantage to this set up is that you'll have full control over the kick drum within the mix, which you won't get without a kick drum mic. You'll also have full control over the snare. The two are arguably the most important drums in the mix anyway. The downside? You'll have no stereo effect, and everything else remains virtually unmiked.
Two Overhead Drum Mics
Overhead mics will pick up plenty of cymbals and a decent amount of snare and toms. The kick will remain virtually invisible, though. That's because overhead mics are designed for upper EQ sensitivity.
Regardless if you're miking your drum kit with two mics or 100, the principle for setting up overhead drum mics is the same: Create a stereo effect. You'll want to position the mics so they point at their own specific "targets," and you'll want to space them an equal distance apart from these targets. If possible, form a triangle above your head, with the both mics "crossing" each other as they point to their intended target.
What are the targets?
That depends. Just make sure they're similar. For instance, pointing one microphone at the snare drum and one at the floor tom is common for setups without direct drum mics. Or you can point one at the hi-hat and one at the ride cymbal. Play around and experiment until you find a sound you like - you might even get best results by pointing the mics between the drums and cymbals.
One last comment about overhead drum mics: Make sure the mics are matched. Or adjust their signal at the mixing board so they're artificially similar. It's easiest if you're using two of the exact same kind of mic (some manufacturers go one step further and offered "factory matched" mics for sale as pairs).
The advantage of two overheads is that you'll get a stereo drum sound, so you can spread it out in the mix. The downside is that the kick drum will be virtually non-existent in the mix. And you won't have individual control over the drum levels on a "per drum" or "per cymbal" basis.
One Kick Drum Mic, One Overhead Mic
With only one overhead your goal is to grab as much of the drums and cymbals as you can. The best way I've found to do this is to mount it up high (very high) on a boom stand and point it and your bass drum leg. Because this is usually the direct center of your kit, geometrically speaking, you'll get the best mix of all the sounds (except kick drum, which I'll mention in a second). Granted this may or may not be the best spot for you, based on your playing style and equipment, so experiment until you find the sweet spot.
Note that you'll get more of whatever the mic is pointing at, and less of what it isn't. So if you snare is too hot in the mix, point it more towards the floor tom. If your ride cymbal is overpowering everything, point it closer to the snare.
As for the kick, follow the same steps from earlier. The concept is the same.
The advantage of miking your kit this way is that you'll get more drums in the actual mix, plus plenty of kick. The downside is that you can't control the overhead mix, short of manually adjusting the mic position; and the overheads are spun up for high frequencies, so you'll lose a lot of the body of the drum sounds - not to mention your cymbals will probably overpower everything.
Buy A Drum Mic Kit - They Aren't Expensive
Assuming you've been reading this article because you can't afford more than a couple of mics for your drum set, I'd like to offer a relatively cheap alternative to the "Mic a drum kit with 2 mics" dilemma: Buy an inexpensive kit of drum kit mics.
You'd be surprised at what you can find in the $100 to $200 range. For instance, Audio Technica and CAD both offer entry level drum kit sets that come with all the hardware you'll need (minus XLR cables). Are they as good as buying top-quality components piece by piece? No. But for the price, they are unbeatable. And honestly, you'll get a much better overall drum sound from these kits than you will through the 2 drum set mic techniques I mentioned earlier.
If you're going to spend the money buying a couple of mics anyway, why not go for a kit? It's what I'd do if I was faced with low cash and a need for drum kit mics.
Here are a couple that are worth checking out:
CAD "Pro 7" 7-Piece Drum Mic Pack
For the money (about $195 at Amazon, or $250-$350 anywhere else), you can't beat this value. You'll get a kick drum mic, a balanced pair of overhead drum mics, three tom mics and one snare mic. Plus you'll get a nifty carrying case for hauling all these guys around.
I've had really good experiences with CAD drum mics. Sure they're on the bargain end of the quality spectrum, but for the price they're tough to beat. I've used the same mics that are in this kit countless times, and have had really good results. They're tough enough for live use and touring, and work great in a home studio. Granted you won't find them in big expensive studios, but the mics they use typically start at about $2,000 each.
In fact, my favorite touring kick drum mic is a CAD. And if something were to happen to it, I'd replaced it with another CAD. I really like the sound quality.
Audio Technica "MB/DK-4" 4-Piece Drum Mic Pack
If your budget is too tight for the CAD kit, then your best bet is this Audio Technica kit. It comes with four mics: One kick drum mic and three tom/snare mics, plus mounting hardware and a carrying case. Sure it doesn't include overhead drum mics, but for the super low price (under $100 at Amazon) you're getting killer quality for your dollar.
I'm normally not a fan of Audio Technica mics at the higher level, but when it comes to a great set of entry level drum mics, nobody can touch the quality of sound you'll get at this price. I mean under $100 for solid tone and sensitivity?
As for the overheads, if you're playing small enough venues, your cymbals will probably carry just find on their own (naturally - not miked). The "need" for overheads in conjunction with close mic drum microphones in a live situation doesn't become apparent until you're playing some good sized venues with ubber powerful sound systems.
If you're only going to use two mics for your drum kit, you must be willing to accept some tradeoffs. But that doesn't mean you can't get a great sound. Whether you're playing live or recording, now that you know how to mic a drum kit with 2 mics, you can focus on your main job: Drumming!