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Small Room, Big Drum Tracks— No Problem!

July 21, 2011
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Part three in a three-part series

BY MICHAEL COOPER

EM0711-Tec-DrumsFig. 1 An AKG C 414 B-TL II multipattern condenser mic is set to figure-8 mode and placed under the hi-hat. Its null point is aimed toward the snare drum in order to reject its sound.

 

WELCOME BACK to our kick-around of tracking trap drums in cramped quarters. If you read the first two installments in this series over the past couple months, you’ve already got a firm grip on the best ways to set up the kit and mike up the traps using the microphones’ null points to your advantage. In this final chapter, we’ll pow-wow on scintillating ways to record cymbals and set up a room mic or two in your space-challenged pad o’ percussion.

Keep This Under Your Hat I like to place a bi-directional (aka figure-8) condenser mic on the hi-hat with one of its null points aimed at the snare drum (see Figure 1). A side-address bi-directional mic, such as the AKG C 414 B-TL II, may be placed either above or below the hi-hat with its capsule pointed toward the spot where the hat is struck. The top of the mic (or any other null point perpendicular to the dual diaphragms) should be aimed directly at the snare drum for maximum rejection.

I prefer placing the mic under the hi-hat, where it is least likely to be hit accidentally by a drum stick. Also with this setup, the hi-hat creates an acoustic-shadow effect that blocks the crash cymbals’ high frequencies from bleeding into the hi-hat mic.

Bi-directional mics have an inherently heavy bass-proximity effect—the closer this type of mic is placed to its source, the more bottom end it will produce. That’s an advantage when miking a thunderous floor tom, but the last thing you want is a hi-hat track with a lumbering bottom end. Roll off low frequencies on your hi-hat mic using either the mic’s built-in high-pass filter (if it has one) or third-party EQ. Doing so will simultaneously emphasize the hat’s high frequencies and weed out any bottom-end bleed from the traps—a win-win.

Hang ’Em (Not Too) High You’ll want to use two condenser mics in a spaced-pair configuration to record the kit’s crash and ride cymbals. Because the mics are hung above the cymbals and aimed downward at them, they are called overhead mics or overheads. In a room with a short ceiling, I prefer to use cardioid mics for overheads because they will reject any phase-cancelling slapback echoes that bounce off the ceiling and arrive at the rear of the mics. Small-diaphragm condensers generally yield the most detailed highs.

In a small room, your primary goal is to capture the sound of the cymbals—not so much the entire kit—with the overheads. The overheads will pick up pleasing bleed from the traps, too, but you should leave the job of recording ambience primarily to the room mics; that will allow independent control over potentially suboptimal acoustics. To ensure you’ll capture excellent direct cymbal sounds, position the overhead mics one to two feet above the cymbals, on the far side (away from the drummer) and angled down. Move the two overheads around until all the cymbal hits are in good balance, with none leaping out or sounding understated, and their stereo imaging sounds consistent with that produced by all the mics on the traps. Also make sure the crash cymbals, when struck, don’t fl ip past the mics’ zero-degree axes, or their tracks will sound phasey.

Give it Some Room The primary purpose of a drum room mic is to capture the ambient sound of the kit. There are many ways to set up room mics in a large studio, but most of them sound like doggy poo in a small room. In a room with an 8-foot ceiling, don’t bother placing a room mic above the drum kit or the drummer’s head—you’ll be lucky if you can get the capsule four feet away from the batter heads. It won’t pick up much room tone and the direct sound will cause phase issues with close mics on the traps. No net gain.

A better strategy is to place one or two room mics at least six feet in front of the drum kit. (You’ll need a room that measures at least ten feet long to allow this.) If for lack of space the rear of the mics must be placed near a wall, use cardioid mics to reject reflections off the wall that would otherwise cause nastysounding comb-filtering. For a great live snare sound, aim a spaced pair of room mics under the cymbals and at the snare drum. To de-emphasize the kick drum and rumbly bass frequencies, make sure the mics are raised well off the floor. Alternatively, for a bottomheavy sound, lower the mics so they’re within kissing distance of the floor.

Only the Beginning So much of crafting killer drum sounds depends on mixing techniques implemented long after the tracking session is over. But without great tracks to begin with, it’s always garbage-in, garbage-out. This series of articles defies the sacrosanct myth that you can’t mint monster drum tracks in a small room. I’m gonna go Barack on ya and say, yes we can!

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