Close Mic’ed Drums – The Obvious Lessons

The other big part of my life (family and computers being the other two) is music; specifically drums and percussion. Up until now, this blog has focused almost entirely on computers and IT, I am going to include more drums now.

drums from above

A few weeks ago, I got a set of microphones and all the various accouterments. I am finding more and more that bits, or all of the drum kit is, or should have been mic’ed up when playing live, so it seemed like a good investment for both gigging, and for just learning the ins and outs of using microphones with drums. I have read and heard from many sources that getting drums to sound good with microphones is a non-trivial task. Getting drums to sound good on their own is hard, I thought, adding mic’s couldn’t be much harder. Well, it certainly adds an extra level.

I am  still getting to grips with all the new aspects, like mic placement, using a mixer, and even stuff like stands and cables all over the place. Here is a list of things I noticed right away after the initial setup:

floot tom microphone

  1. Microphone placement is HUGELY important. Just a small angle change is the difference between a boomy, ringy drum and a crisp sharp sound.
  2. When close-mic’ing, a few millimeters closer to a drum can make a huge difference to the amount of gain, and the tone you get.
  3. When played acoustic only (i.e. no microphones) then if a drum is slightly out of tune, only the well trained ear will notice. You close mic it and everyone notices.

You are probably reading this and nodding your head sagely and saying to yourself that this is common sense and that you could have told me that for nothing. Here’s the thing, you need to learn this the hard way. I have heard these things many times too, and I was fully expecting them. That still doesn’t stop you from being a little shocked at just how apparent these things are when you experience if for yourself. Up until it bites you, it is just an intellectual thing. Once you experience it, and learn how to deal with it then it becomes part of your craft.

The next stage is then learning how to set levels, tone and mix your drums. I’m not going to give any tips on that yet – I still don’t know what I am doing. I will give some general ideas that I am finding are helping me a lot.

  • Give yourself lots of time. Do not expect to get a new set of microphones, and then use them in a gig that night and sound awesome. Set them up in your practice room and play with all the things.
  • Try to isolate  yourself from the ambient noise and listen just to the microphones. I have a pair of IEM;s and a set of isolation headphones – both of which have a 20-30 dB ambient noise drop. I have found plugging the IEM’s in to the desk and wearing the headphones on top of the IEM’s give sufficient isolation to hear just what the microphones are picking up.
  • Play, twiddle, play, twiddle, and repeat till your drums sound how you like them. The twiddling will probably include a bit of changing mic positions, tuning, and changing settings on the mixer.
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