There are several options available for solo musicians to add percussion to their music. Even if you are not a drummer or percussionist there are ways to get great drums into your songs. First let’s talk about recording drums. Recording a drum set can get complicated. Let’s discuss placing microphones around the drum set.
The drums are the hardest thing to record. There are typically two ways to recorded drums in a studio. The first way is to use just a few microphones and mic the set. This is an old school type sound that will take a snap shot of the drums and how they sound in the room. We do this by using 3 microphones. One microphone is placed in front and set low to capture the bass drum. Set it back about 5 to 7 feet. Any microphone with low-end will sound good. It could be a nice large diaphragm condenser that is good for low-end.
The other two microphones are placed overhead. They are set a few feet above the whole drum set. One is placed over the snare about 6 feet from the ground. It should be centered more between the snare and the drummers head. The other microphone is placed over the floor tom about 6 feet from the ground. The overhead Microphones should be condensers. This will give you the old school sound known in many classic recordings. This is a great sound for drums.
They second way is to use many microphones and mic each drum separately. This will give you the modern drum sounds we have on today’s recordings. The problem with drums is the fact that we will have noise bleed from one drum to another drum. We will not get total separation. There are ways we can mic the drums so we can achieve an overall balance. So let us look at options for placing microphones around a drum set for a more modern in your face type sound.
For a snare drum I use the Sure SM57. It has a very iconic sound and it is ideal for snare drums. Point the SM57 towards the center of the snare about an inch over the rim. You can also place another SM57 underneath the snare drum to capture the snares. You can blend the two sounds of the snare mics in the mix. The microphone located underneath the snare drum will not get as much bleed from the hi hat.
I like to use a large diaphragm condenser microphone for the Kick drum. Something that is known for its low-end. A Neumann U47 fet is a great microphone for this. Place the microphone in front of the Kick. You can place it on the same side as the beater but you will be picking up bleed from the snare drum. For the best sound you would place the microphone in front of the kick drum slightly on the inside of the drum if you can. Place the mic closer to one side of the kick drum as opposed to the middle of the drum. You will get more low-end frequency from the side of the kick drum as opposed to the middle.
I like to use dynamic microphones on the toms. Dynamic mics pick up less from the high-end so they will provide some separation from the cymbals. I place them close to the rim and angle the mic towards the middle of the drum right where the stick will hit. The proximity effect will give me more bass and the Tom will be the dominate sound in the mike in spite of any cymbal bleed. I usually don’t place a microphone underneath the tom. I like to use a Sennheiser 421 for tom drums. A sure SM57 will work well too. The 421 is my favorite microphone for toms.
Hi Hat: A small diaphragm condense works well for hi hats. Use the mic’s pad if it is available when micing drums. Place the mic in the middle between the bell and the edge of the cymbal.
For the overheads use large diaphragm condenser microphones. The U47 fet is still a great choice for this. These microphones are going to capture Cymbals. They will capture other drums as well but the cymbals will be the dominate sound.
place the room microphone about 10 feet from the center of the drum kit slightly above the kick drum. Far rooms can be placed towards the back. Ribbon mics are good for this. They will give you the effect of space and reverb.
All the drum microphones should be run through a compressor. As you can see this list of gear can get very expensive. The cost in microphones alone can break the bank. Let’s look at other options for adding drums and percussion to your music.
- Use a drum machine. Drum machines can be programmed with all the fills and breaks you want then you just record from the audio outputs on the track. You can also record the drums as midi data on a midi track. I have used an Alesis drum machine in the past. It was not that hard to program, but it was time Consuming.
- Try using drum loops. Drum loops are prerecorded drums that were recorded in a professional studio. They can be anywhere from half a measure to 4 measures long. A good set of loops will have fills and variations of the same drum beat. The recorded loops will be of a high quality. A lot of people like these because they are real drums. These sound great, but you are limited to the beats provided by the set.
- You can use a drum software program. There are software programs out there that use midi to record drum sounds. Some of the interfaces work like a drum machine. BFD Drums is one of the best programs out there. These Drum programs also offer expansion packs. These expansion packs will offer new drum sounds and beats for other styles of music. Here is a list of some of the drum programs that are available with their website links. This is a lot cheaper than purchasing the microphones to mic a real drum set. These programs sound incredible. This is not a complete list.
While 3rd party drum programs are great, some DAW applications come with their own collection of drum loops and drum software. My DAW of choice is Cakewalk’s Sonar Platinum Edition. It comes with Session Drummer 3. Sonar Platinum Edition also comes with the full version of Addictive Drums. Some people like some of the above programs a little more than Session Drummer, That being said, Session Drummer is a pretty good program too. It has a lot of great features as well. This is one of those personal preference things.