Every engineer has a basic default setup that suits 90% of situations he may find himself in. I am no exception. If I have a bunch of time, this setup may be a starting point for more creative techniques. When this is the case, often I will still leave the basic mics in place in case my “creative” approach turns out crappy. If I have limited time, such as a three hour TV session with guys on the clock, I know I can get what I need very quickly. Sometimes I may only have ten of fifteen minutes to get it together.
Here’s how I roll:
Kick inside – 421 or ATM25
Kick outside – fet47 or any other large non-tube condenser
Snare top – SM57 or Beta 57
Snare bottom – AKG 452 with –10db pad and 75hz rolloff or SM57
Hat – AKG 452 with –10db pad and 75hz rolloff or KM84 –10db pad
Toms – 421 or ATM25
Overheads KM84s or AKG 452s
Ride – AKG 452 with –10db pad and 75hz rolloff or whatever small condenser is available
Room – Large condensers in either an XY or MS pair
There are lots of other mics that work just as well, or perhaps better under certain circumstances. There are pretty standard mics that most studios have, and serve as a good starting point.
With drums, placement is everything. The best results can never be achieved without experimentation. Even the slightest change can make a BIG difference. Every kit is different. Every drummer is different. There is no way to just eyeball mics in place and expect optimum results. That being said, I usually start out like this:
The kick inside should be a few inches away from the head, off center. The amount of “snap” can be controlled by the proximity to the beater. The opening on the outer head is a big determining factor both logistically and in terms of its effect on the overall sound of the drum. Sometimes no outer head at all works out pretty well.
The outside kick should be away from the center of the head and the hole, but close to the head to minimize bleed. Usually I’ll filter above 300-500hz. That Yamaha SubKick thing is pretty cool instead of a traditional mic. It’s basically a $300 version of the old “wire an NS-10 woofer as a mic” trick.
The snare is usually at a shallow angle right above the edge of the rim, pointed a little bit away from wherever the drummer is actually hitting. The extra brightness of a Beta57 can sometimes help reduce the amount of eq needed. On the bottom, I try to get very close to the snares and pointing away from the kick to minimize bleed. This mic will be out of phase, so remember to flip it on the input. If there is a shortage of decent mics, this is the usually the least important one since, by itself, the underneath of a snare sounds pretty awful. These days with DAWs and unlimited track counts, there’s really no reason to sum the top and bottom mics on one track. Why limit your options later?
I usually position the hat mic above the outside edge angled away from the rest of the kit a bit to minimize bleed. I almost always roll of low end at the console.
Toms are usually the biggest hassle. As far as positioning, the rack tom(s) should be similar to the snare top. When possible, I may position the floor tom mic in such a way that it keeps the same angle relative to the head as the other tom mics, but does not point toward the snare – again to reduce bleed. With toms there is usually some lo-mid “cardboard” frequencies to eq out. Balancing gain is also important, especially if there are more than two toms being summed to a stereo buss. Any time a drummer shows up with a four-piece kit, I dance a jig! I always monitor the toms panned in a wide stereo spread, even though I would rarely mix them that way. It’s much easier to pick out balance problems and other weirdness that way.
Overheads are the most subjective mics in terms of positioning. I may do different things depending on the number of cymbals and kit layout. If it’s Neal Peart Jr., I’ll put them in a stereo pair near the drummer’s head. If it’s a smaller setup I’ll put a mic on each side of the kit. The important thing is to keep both mics far enough away from any cymbal to avoid sounding phasey when struck, and the same distance from the snare drum (often I’ll use a spare mic cable to measure). This ensures the snare remains centered in the stereo image. Usually this puts the overhead to the left of the drummer a little bit off the edge of the kit.
The ride mic isn’t always necessary. When I use it, I aim it downward at the outside edge of the cymbal, as close as I can get away with since bleed is often a problem. I’ll almost always roll some low end off and listen to it with the overheads, taking care to pan it to match its position in the stereo image.
Room mics are an article unto themselves. Assuming the room sound is worth capturing, the most sure-fire approach is to walk around, find a spot that sounds good, and put a stereo pair of the best mics available there. This ensures a consistent stereo image. Often when the mics are positioned far apart they can sound very different from each other and the stereo image will be a mess.
Of course this is all moot if the drummer and kit aren’t happening.