Believe it or not, you can totally get away with recording drums with one microphone! Even though we’re accustomed to close miking each piece of the kit in order to get the biggest, punchiest sound we can, that isn’t always the result. Many times this is because of the phase cancellation and bleed between different mics sucking the life out of our drum sound. Sometimes the simplest method, like recording drums with one microphone, provides the realism we’re after!
Advantages of Recording Drums with One Microphone
- Phase: One mic means absolutely no phase issues. If you’re careful about how you arrange a multi-mic drum setup and flip polarity, you can eliminate any phase problems — sure. But with one mic, your life is no hassle-free.
- Punchiness: A full, punchy sound is typically what we’re looking for. Lots of time we want our recorded drums to sound like they do in the room — huge, natural, and punchy. Multi-mic setups suffer from not only phase cancellation (which makes things sound thin), but close miking sometimes makes instruments sound less natural. You’re not “in the room” with them.
- Balance: A good drum sound is all about balance. With lots of microphones, finding the right recording balance can take a lot of trial and error, repositioning, etc. One mic is easier to manage — place it, listen. Move it, listen. You can avoid the headache of moving 6+ mics around when you only have one. You’ll also commit to a good sound sooner when you land on a great balance with one mic!
Centered above the kit: Picture an equilateral triangle, where the base is the whole width of the kit. Next, picture the sides of the triangle moving up over the kit and meeting directly in the middle. This this is where you can place your mic straight down at the drums. The height of the placement should be equal to the width of the kit.
You can start with a cardioid pattern, but definitely try other polar patterns if your mic has them. Again, balance is the key with a single mic technique. Don’t be afraid to reposition the mic if the cymbals are too hard, or you don’t have enough kick, etc. This is a great starting point, but adjust to taste!
3 feet, on axis: With this technique, you’ll place your mic approximately 3 feet in front of the kit and about 3 feet high. It should be pointing between the toms and the cymbals, towards the snare.
This one is easy to adjust, particularly when it comes to kick drum balance. If you need more kick, lower the mic a bit; if you want less kick, raise it.
3 feet, 45-degree angle: A simple variation on the technique above. Rather than pointing your mic head on at the whole drum set 3 feet high, you can place it about 3 feet in front of the drums with the height just enough to point down at the center of the kit (the snare) at a 45-degree angle.
The same principles apply for kick drum balance; lower it for more, or raise it for less.
“In the room” sound: This is a great technique if you want to capture more of the drum sound in the room. Grab a mic and position it roughly 5 feet high and 8 feet or so right in front of the kit. The balance will be a lot more natural, but you will hear a lot more of the room sound. Hopefully the room sounds great and adds to the size and power of the kit!
You might want to try this method first when recording drums with one mic.
Over the drummer’s head: With this technique you’ll want to place a mic over the drums and about even with the top of drummer’s head. As far as angle goes, just be sure that the mic looks at the whole kit to cover the toms without too much harshness in the cymbals.
Recording drums with one microphone won’t give you the width that a traditional multi-mic setup will, but they’re great for a focused, vintage sound. It’s easy enough to try any of these techniques in a session. One of them is sure to please you and your clients if that focused punch is what you want!