While experimenting with ‘minimal’ drum‑miking setups during a recent lockdown, the author found them really inspiring and captured some great drum sounds. So is it time you re-evaluated the decisions you make when recording a kit?
The history of record‑making is littered with great recordings that were shaped, in part, by how artists and engineers worked around technical obstacles, the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper being a prime example. Sadly, I can’t claim to have recorded a seminal album in the last few months, but I have enjoyed some recording experiments driven by technical limitations.
A room here at Half‑Ton Studios became vacant during the Covid‑19 lockdowns and, rather than attempt to let it again, I took the opportunity to turn the room into a dedicated drum‑recording space, in which I could keep a kit permanently set up and ready to record should inspiration strike. This ‘new’ space initially had only four XLR feeds into the studio’s main control room (I installed more later, of course), so while learning to get the best sound in this room I was forced to experiment with ‘minimal’ drum‑miking setups, using no more than four mics.
These experiments turned out to be really inspiring. In fact, I captured some great drum sounds, and it got me thinking about the decisions I make when recording a kit. Like many engineers, I typically record drums using several mics, with close mics on every drum, overheads, room and a few ‘character’ options. While this approach can work very well, it’s not always helpful. For one thing, having all those options to play with can lead you down a certain path when it comes to mixing; I can’t be the only one who’s spent ages working to construct a punchy, full drum sound only then to spend an age with several plug‑ins working to make it all sound more lo‑fi or retro! It obviously takes more time to rig and position so many mics. There’s also a risk that the complexity of such setups encourages the engineer to focus on the tools and the processing at the expense of the sound of the kit and the feel of the performance.
In this article, I’ll explore some of the minimal drum‑miking techniques I’ve used recently, and encourage you to try them too. I’ve also prepared some audio examples so you’re able to listen and compare the results, and you’ll find these on the SOS website at https://sosm.ag/two-mic-drum-recording.
I haven’t the space here to explore every setup I tried; four mics can be used in so many different ways. So, instead, I’ll focus on five techniques that employ only two microphones — though I’ll also consider whether they lend themselves to being augmented with other mics.
With the digital processing and sample‑triggering we all have available in our DAWs, we often find ourselves...