In this guide, we’ll take a very good look at how to mic drums for live performance.
When you’re micing the drums for live performance, you need to make sure that the whole kit is tuned to the desired tone. Also, the mics that you have chosen should ideally suit your drummer, the drum, and the sound that you want to achieve. When you’re placing the mics, you should be attentive that nothing should ever touch the resonant head.
How to Mic Drums for Live Performance
When we mic a kick drum, it’s important that the mic that we choose captures an extended low-frequency response.
While micing a kick drum, we need to balance sustain, punch, and snap. There are 2 ways to mic a kick drum to achieve the sound you want: placing the mic inside, and placing it outside the kick drum.
Placing the mic inside a kick drum will give you a more bitter sound with a lot of snap. As a starting point, place the mic about 2-3” inside while it points towards the beater. To achieve more attack, relocate the mic a bit closer and point it exactly at the beater. If you’re after a more rounder and fuller sound with far less attack, put the mic further inside the drum and change the angle to be a bit away from the beater.
Placing the mic outside will give you more sustain and punch. For starters, you should put the mic about 2-4” from the rim and aim it at the head. Then, you can adjust the angle up to the point that you like the sound.
You can combine inside and outside methods if your drum has a hole in the head. By doing so, you get the snap and punch at the same time.
Another thing that you should pay attention to is whether you have feedback that finds its way through the kick drum mic if you got it all cranked up. If this is the case, you have to put a kick drum mic inside of the drum and crank up the bottom end on the board.
Also, while micing a kick drum, you have to be attentive not to capture any cardboard-like sounds, which typically is in the center of the drumhead. While you place the mic inside a kick drum, you can still control the tone by moving the mic closer to the beater head to get more snap or put it further away to get less snap.
You may use a pressure zone mic inside of the kick drum and a large diaphragm mic outside of the drum. Using these mics in such a combination will give you snap and punch inside and beef and sustain outside.
There is no fun if the snare drum doesn’t sound crisp, thick, with a lot of detail, and an emphasized body. The best mics for snares are considered to be unidirectional dynamic mics. While micing a snare drum, you operate by angle, height (the distance from the drum), and position.
You may use directional mics, which sound brighter when they’re put on an axis. To get more initial transients, you have to point the mic where the stick hits. To get more top-end from the resonance, you have to point the mic across the drum. And when you point the mic down at the drum at a steeper angle, you achieve a bouncier sound.
When talking about height, you can start by putting the mics at about 2.5-3“ above the drumhead. The closer you put the mic to the drumhead, the more proximity effect you get. Meaning closer to the drum sound will be a bit thicker, and further away – it will be thinner.
The further the mic is located from the rim, closer to the center of the drum, you get variables in tone in comparison to when the mic is placed near the rim.
Here’s another thing to consider while micing a snare drum, is that you may capture the hi-hats. A good idea would be to choose a cardioid microphone and place it so that the back of the mic would be as close to the hi-hats as possible. In that case, the hi-hats would be rejected and you’ll hear the clear sound of the snare drum.
Watch out for Hi-Hats
Sometimes you may need to mic the bottom of the snare drum as well. To do that, you have to put the mic at the same position that you have a top mic but put it at 90 degrees angle. Also, capsules of top and bottom mics should be at the same distance from the drumhead. While setting a bottom mic, don’t forget to change the polarity, or you may risk losing all low-end.
If you want to achieve a brighter sound, you can use small diaphragm condenser microphones. But you should be careful with compression because when it’s overdone, you get a very annoying noise from the kick drum.
Basically, some principles from micing the snare drum can be used on toms as well. Put the mic of your choice about 2” over the drumhead and 2” further from the rim. Set the capsule, so it looks down somewhere between 45-90 degrees, and adjust the angle till you get the sound that you want. To achieve more low-end as well as resonance and sustain, you should place the capsule closer to the drum head and change the angle to be more downward. If you want to get more attack, you should place the mic a bit further from the drumhead and change the angle more toward the center.
The bigger the tom drum you have, the further from the drum you need to position the mic.
While micing toms, you may face an issue of cymbals being picked up by the mic. To solve that, you need to point the mic more toward the middle of the drum. Also, such a position gives you a better signal-to-noise ratio.
How you decide to mic overheads, the whole kit, or just cymbals, it’s totally your choice. But if you need to get more textures, it’s better to mic the whole kit.
A good idea would be to use a spaced pair because of the noise on the stage and reflections from the drums. Using spaced pairs gets you the driest and the cleanest cymbals and the best signal-to-noise ratio.
While setting a spaced pair, it’s important that the position of the kick and snare drums should be along the stereo image, not in the center of it. Also, you need to measure the distance between each of the mics of the spaced pair to the center of the snare drum. It should be the same so that the snare would arrive at both mics at the same time. When adjusting the height and making sure that you get a balanced sound, you can use drumsticks to measure the distance from the cymbals to the mics.
As you know, kick drums are characterized by having a very deep and low sound with a fast and snappy attack and, in most cases, are tuned somewhat lower than the low key on the bass guitar. Firstly, tune your kick till all wrinkles go away from the drumhead. Then, experiment with a pitch to the moment you get the desired tone. Sometimes kick drum may lack definition, in that case, you need to pitch the resonant head a bit sharper than the opposite head, which will tense up the sound.
The snare drum is known to be the loudest in the whole drum set and is characterized by having very little sustain and a lot of attack. Snares can be made from wood or metal and affect the tone differently. There’s no standard note to which snare drums should be tuned, but drummers tend to tune them between E3 and B3. If the snare head is too difficult to tune or it has lots of dents, it’s better to change it for a fresh one.
Depending on the number of toms that you have, you can either tune them to wider intervals or together, so the drums are in their common pitch range. The bigger the toms are, the lower they’re tuned. But the smallest are usually tuned between E3 and B3. The tension that the resonant head has is crucial for tuning the toms, so whenever you feel you can fine-tune the resonant head more to have the top resonance of the drum.