Mic-ing drum kit, testing new gear…

It’s 1/30/2013
Hey ya’ll! Figured I’d take the willing on a little technical journey today.
Got rid of a pre I wasn’t really using and converted it into a couple new mics and general pieces of gear. I need to familiarize myself with them and explore how they fit with my old stuff.
Decided I needed to go back to the start and build an equip list focusing on the best utility for each mic. This list is based on my personal preferences and discoveries as I’ve found even engineering is HIGHLY subjective and most people who talk about gear online or in-person, especially if they are actually trained, will have vastly different opinions on the usage and function of stuff than I personally do… So I find it helps to just explore and WRITE DOWN what you discover so that you can experiment in your own lab and build your own knowledge of YOUR OWN gear and space and sound.

So with that in mind here’s my short gear list as it stood before this mic-ing experiment:
rodeNTK – vocals* (not me?), percussives, kick/OH
at4033 – acoustic*, kick, elec, bassamp
fatheadII – OH*, guitAmp
evRE20 – basscab*, tom, kick
md421 – snare*, tom
sm7b – vocals* (clarity?), kick*, guitar cabs, anything ever…
ev635n – interviews*, voice, general Omni

… Not a full list of what’s available, just a full list of the pieces I find I get the best results from and tend to use most carefully. All others are backup pieces. When starting the mic session I wanted to move from a place (configuration of mics and equipment) I was already familiar with, so I took the mics and put them up based on the assumptions from the past and using a very basic drum mic-ing style to get my “control” sample.

Before we start one general rule of thumb for recording: You tend to use a good deal more “distance” and “off-axis” micing — in other words you use a lot more “space” in general between the mic and the source — than you would normally in a “live” situation. It might even feel wrong at first if you are used to seeing how live kits are miced up on stage at a show, but the usage of mics and the type of mics used and the goals in mic-ing up the gear in general are all completely different between those two realms. Live work vs. Recorded work. Don’t disrespect one form by pretending it’s the other because it’s “how it’s done”. See what works for you. It’s the only way to develop taste and increase your ear’s ability to hear.

The basic style of drum mic-ing I use when I just want to hear the kit from my “reference point” is very simple. One mic on the kick about a foot or so out. The mic itself should be above the level of the top lip kick shell (on the horizontal plane) and you will be placing the cartridge off-axis from the drum and angling it down toward the imagined “center” of the kick’s sound. Start with 45-ish degrees then adjust based on how it sounds. I tend to place the stand off to the snare side of the kit from the front. If you need to spend some time moving it around and testing to learn the differences that slight placement changes make to the overall sound then do so and take notes.
Snare mic I tend to place under the high-hat (minimizes ugly bleed) angled across the kit toward the floor tom. It’s nearly “shell mic-ing” with the angle I use. I put it closer than I might normally for this experiment. I favor the md421 on the snare because it has direct control (dial built into the body) over sound before even going into the interface with it’s litle “shelving dial” thing, and also it sounds like butt through my setup on most everything else… in my opinion as of now. I’m sure pre’s and different gear would change this.
Tom mic is similar in that it is under the ride and angled slightly toward the snare side but not nearly as much. I started with a basic 57 but moved to SM7 after round 1.
Overhead mic I tend to do “drummer’s perspective” over the right (sometimes left) shoulder angled down toward the kit, as high up as possible and with the cartridge center pointing at the middle of the kick/kit, sort of where the beater hits the head. This will be the primary source of kit sound with the closer mics augmenting where this mic is deficient. Sometimes you have to flip the “phase” on the OH with this method but it all depends on how things sound and how they “phase/sweep” around when you nudge the tracks afterwards. take… NOTES… of your work. Not because you will look back at them but because writing it down will help you think about it more clearly (because it’s outside of you) and help you memorize it a bit more…. and if all else fails you could go look at the notes.

This particular method of kit mic-ing is just my personal “failsafe”. I use this method because it works well on our kit and with the mics I tend to use (specifically for the bass drum [SM7]) in the rooms we have access to. You will have a different kit and microphone array so you may want to begin with a different set of positions. Explore if you hate the initial results.

Ok so how did all this turn out? Didn’t like it. I hated it so much I deleted it before I could remember I needed to save it for this write up… So I’ll just describe it for now. Since my SM7 no longer has a preamp, it’s getting hard to give it the gain it needs to sound correct through my interface… so I took the opportunity to try out the 4033 on the kick instead. I had recalled it sounding alright on an older kit and noted it on my list. Figured I’d give it another go. It also sounded bad. It made the kick have a kind of flappy, weak… beater sound. Like the attack of the kick was the most notable part but it sounded very… weak and mid-heavy. The other mics shored up the “sustain” of the kick and helped out the low end for the beater/attack but not enough… plus the combination of the crappy primary kick sound mixing in with the whole kit just sounded “off”… it made the whole thing worse than any part separately. Always a bad sign.
The snare was pretty good, as usual. I messed up the angle on it for sure and there’s a weird kind of ploink sound happening sometimes… Probably bad/lazy placement with the 421 honestly. More focused on testing the Tuber. But overall it was a decent kit sound for being completely unmixed and untreated. Should have raised the level on the track fader though before mixdown but then again I was trying to not mix anything just pan a little to hear the different sources easy.
At first the Tom was just a basic 57 for control. Never really like how those sound though so once I put the 4033 on the kick I moved the SM7 over to the Tom to give it a whirl. Ended up working a bit better than I thought. I’ll try it again in the future if I’m not using it on the kick. It kept out much of the nasty high end ringing tones our tom has while giving it a nice dark and round feeling with a bit of “slap” from the detuning.
Overhead was beautiful and super easy to EQ as usual. Love those ribbons. Naturally a very soft kind of sound… very dark but very malleable after the fact. Lovely for the price as well… fathead’s are cheap.

So… I knew I didn’t like the 4033. I knew I was cool with the SM7 on the tom. Snare and OH were totally fine. Let’s try this again but on the kick we’ll put the new Tube Mic. Rode NTK. Super cheap entry level tube mic. You can even replace/upgrade the tube and mod the cartridge to make it work better than mics twice to three times it’s price if you feel the urge. Good starter tool to grow with. But, how do I think it sounds?
I set up the tube and let it warm up and place it in relatively the same position the 4033 was in… Standard off-axis from above toward kick-center about a foot and a half out. Everything else remained static. It sounded good. Lets go with this for now…

Here are some pieces of the test I recorded using this setup:
Two sloppy sections in different styles about 2mins long total. After about 43secs the first style gets compressed to see how the general sound handles compression. Once the style switches it also gets compressed but with a “classic soft-knee” at around 1:20-1:40 or so. If you want to hear the individual mics somewhat clearly and how they effect the overall kit sound then you’ll need to skip to about 1:45 and listen from there until the end. You’ll get some pretty slow little single drum hits as “fills”.

It sounds alright. There are some things with placement I want to change and some stuff with the room and the kit and the mics themselves but the Tube is working pretty cool. The sound is much better than I imagined for such a cheap piece of gear. I like the SM7 on the Tom… I wanted to try the RE20 but I’ll save that for a different style layout and I’ll do a write-up on that at some point. I don’t like how this configuration handled the compression but that was a totally uncontrolled test. There are nice things about it and bad things and I bet with a little bit of mixing and EQing I could shape the compressed kit into something pretty awesome… so we’ll rest here then and experiment on an actual “recording day” once the keyboard is in.

I’ve modified my mic list slightly as a result of the tests… now it’s more like this:
rodeNTK – kick*/OH, vocals (not me?), percussives,
at4033 – acoustic*, hot-room, elec/bassamp, ……kick^
fatheadII – OH*, guitAmp
evRE20 – basscab*, tom, kick
md421 – snare*, cabs, tom
sm7b – kick/tom*, vocals (clarity?), guitar cabs, anything ever…
ev635n – interviews*, voice, general Omni

So not too different. Some of the changes reflect outside experiments I performed but didn’t document in this log here. Just noting some small assumptions I had that are now different because of the new room and the kit setup currently. Recent changes since last album. Below are some photos of the general setup. Excuse the clarity. It’s really just so you can get an idea of what the setup was like if the words were too hard to follow. In the future when we get more specific about placement and techniques the pictures will be of higher quality.


And that’s that. Be well.


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