Q. Where should I put my overhead mics?

Published in SOS March 2011
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Hugh Robjohns

When recording drums, I really want to get the kick, snare and hi‑hat in the middle of the image, but with a wide spread of cymbals. The snare is placed off to the left of the kick (from the drummer's point of view). I know I need to set my drum overhead mics so that there are no phasing issues with the kick and snare mics, but how do I know where to point the OH mics? For example, if I have two cardioid-pattern mics, should they be pointing straight down, at the snare, or somewhere between the kick and snare — or somewhere else entirely?

Adrian Cairns via email

SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: This is an interesting one because what you are trying to do is distort the stereo imaging of the recording, compared with the reality of the kit setup. And the only way you can do that is by maximising the separation of what each mic hears. That's easy enough with the kick, snare and hi‑hat mics because of their proximity to the sources and the effectiveness of bracketing EQ. The overheads, however, remain more of an issue, because they are naturally going to pick up significant spill from the snare and hi‑hat (you can use bracketing EQ to minimise the kick drum spill, of course).

To achieve your desire of keeping the snare and hi‑hat central in the image you will have to ensure that the overhead mics are equally spaced from those two sources, so that the level and time of arrival of snare and hi‑hat sounds are equal in both mics. With that as a primary requirement, you can then experiment with moving the mics (and/or cymbals) around to achieve the required spread of cymbal sound. Angling the mics, to assist with the rejection of as much snare and hat spill as possible while capturing the wanted cymbals, is also a useful tool, providing you maintain the equal distance so that whatever spill is captured remains central in the stereo image.To get a particular section of your drum kit central in the stereo image, it is important to set up your overhead mics such that they are equidistant from the relevant sources.To get a particular section of your drum kit central in the stereo image, it is important to set up your overhead mics such that they are equidistant from the relevant sources.

There are also some less conventional alternative techniques you might also like to consider, using fig‑8 mics where you can aim the deep null to minimise snare and hat pickup in a useful way.  

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