BY MICHAEL COOPER
Fig. 1 A Shure SM57 cardioid mic is threaded between the hi-hat and high rack tom to record the snare drum. The hi-hat’s sound is partially rejected by the 57’s null point.
THIS MONTH, we continue our three-part series on recording monster drums in an itty-bitty space. Last month, I gave pointers on setting up the kit and discussed general miking approaches and their potential pitfalls. I’ll drill deeper this month, giving tips on how to best mike up the traps to mine rock-solid tracks.
Use Directional Mics Up Close When multi-miking trap drums, you can greatly diminish both phase and imaging problems by using directional mics (versus omnidirectional ones) to reduce mic bleed; I’ll explain why shortly. Mic bleed is the sound of one instrument, such as the floor tom, captured unintentionally by a mic placed on another part of the kit, such as the snare drum.
You’ll never completely eliminate mic bleed in a multi-miked kit, and you wouldn’t want to. A little bit of bleed is critical to getting a live sound. Eliminate all the bleed, and the drums will sound like they’re stuffed inside a shoebox. Still, you want to optimize the amount of direct sound captured by each mic placed on a trap drum by moving the mic as close as possible to the drum. Specifically, place the mic capsule just above the rim of the drum on the side farthest away from the drummer—where it’s least likely to get hit by a wayward drum stick. For drum tracks that belch firecracker highs, point the mic where the drummer most often hits the drum. Let signs of wear in the batter head be your guide.
Condenser mics generally sound superior on toms, producing crystal-clear detail. But if the drummer poses Neanderthal imprecision, substitute hardier dynamic mics that can withstand being occasionally bludgeoned.
Angle the Mic The angle of the mic is just as important as its proximity to the drum. Every directional mic has one or two null points, or angles of incidence at which sound is largely rejected. Angle each mic so that its null point faces—as much as is feasible—the closest part of the kit that you don’t want it to pick up. That will drastically reduce the bleed of that instrument into the mic.
For example, a cardioid mic always has a single null point located 180 degrees off -axis to the front of its capsule—in other words, at the rear of its diaphragm and the mic body. When miking a rack tom with a cardioid mic, angle the rear of the mic toward the closest crash or ride cymbal to reject its sound. Make sure the capsule of the mic remains pointed at the place where the drummer strikes the rack tom’s batter head.
Placed on a snare drum, a cardioid mic’s rear end should be angled toward the hi-hat, if possible, to reject its sound. In order to keep the mic capsule pointed at the money spot for the snare, you may only be able to angle the mic body enough that the hi-hat is 100 degrees or so off -axis (see Figure 1). But even rotated just partway, the mic will reject hi-hat bleed somewhat.
Fig. 2 In this overhead view, a Neumann U87a multi-pattern condenser, set to bi-directional mode, is placed on a floor tom. One of the mic’s null points faces the ride cymbal in order to reject its sound.
If the drummer has precise (safe) technique, I’ll use a bi-directional, large-diaphragm condenser mic on the floor tom (see Figure 2). Bi-directional (aka figure-8) mics sport null points at 90 and 270 degrees off -axis (in other words, perpendicular to the mic capsule). With the mic placed above the rim at the farthest point away from the drummer and its capsule aimed down at the floor tom’s batter head, the null of the mic will point more or less at the ride cymbal. This will prevent much of the ride’s sound from bleeding into the floor tom’s mic.
Flip Out The snare drum may need an additional mic aimed at its bottom to directly capture the sound of the snares. Likewise, if a tom mic isn’t capturing enough bass, place an additional mic on the tom’s bottom. Be sure to flip the polarity of any bottom mic on a snare or tom so that it is in phase with its companion topside mic. If you don’t, the bass-frequency response will go out the window. To minimize potential phase cancellations, only use bottom mics if they are necessary.
Do an Inside Job A cardioid dynamic mic with hyped bass and highs, such as the AKG D112, works well on kick drum. Unless you’re recording jazz, you’ll probably want to place the kick drum mic inside the shell. If the drum’s front head (the one not being struck) doesn’t have a hole in it to accommodate this tack, lobby the drummer to remove the head. If the drum rings too much, put a small blanket inside it to damp it.
The kick drum’s shell provides an acoustic shadow for an inside mic that will reduce bleed into it from other parts of the kit. Aim the mic capsule directly at the beater for more snap. Alternatively, angle the mic away from the beater to capture more shell tone.
Next Month: Cymbals and Room Mics If you’ve been diligent about close-miking and using null points to reduce bleed, the traps should be sounding great in your small room. Next month, in the third and final installment of this series, I’ll show you how to mike up the hi-hat, crash, and ride cymbals. And I’ll reveal the best way to set up a room mic or two for an explosive sound.