Microphone Placement - Overheads and Room Mics
Let's talk about overheads. There are so many ways of doing overheads, and I've tried pretty much all of them, at some point, involving, you know, a stereo bar to put the two microphones at 90 degrees to one another and kind of hover them over the middle. There's a variation of that called ROTF. The one that I always come back to is the spaced pair, and that's gonna be these two microphones here. But, in my experience, I've found that if you just position them to be level, naturally, because a kit is not symmetrical, or Matt's kit is not symmetrical. You can see the snare's actually quite off to one side. I find that it gives, I really like the sound of that, basically. If I want to use the overheads for some of the tone of the drums, which I like, I don't like the fact the snare's coming in from one side. That can kind of shift the snare a bit off to one side. So what I do is I actually space the overheads to be the same distance away from the center of the snare, and that means, perh...
aps, I'm looking a little bit uneven, but the sound, when you hear it, is still going to be a really good representation of the kit. I'll start, probably, with that microphone. The one that's going to be on the hi-hat side. Typically, I'm going to have this just a little bit higher, because there's a lot more distance on that side of the drum than there is on this. I could, and it would still sound fine, have the overhead even off the end of the cymbals, but generally I kind of aim to come in somewhere over the top of the left crash, and get some of the hi-hat as well. The hi-hat's really loud, so some people tend to try to shy away from it in the overheads. I've done that on a few sessions, and it works, perhaps differently than I expected, because instead of getting less hi-hat, what I actually got was hi-hat almost equally loud in both overheads, which made it shift kind of inwards to the middle, so these days I try to catch a decent amount of it in the overheads and then hopefully I won't have to use too much of the close mic too. Just through a lot of experimentation, I've found that almost always, starting with the overheads being four feet from the middle of the snare works really well. Now, it's gonna really depend on, sorry, this is really tight. It's really gonna depend on the position of the cymbals. If the drummer has really high cymbals, that doesn't make so much sense, but generally, most drummers have a fairly similar amount of distance between the shells, the cymbal, and the snares, so four feet tends to be a really good, kind of starting point. I'm gonna just eyeball this, and we have a tape measure to check this with in a second, but I'm gonna pull this even farther, further back, maybe come around from here.
Seems like the cymbal's actually right in the middle, too.
Sort of the same measurement.
Yeah. If I was closer to the cymbal, you would probably want to try and place the overhead in such a way that it's over the part of the cymbal that's moving the least. If you were kind of hitting here, your stick, then this line across the cymbal is moving not very much, it's kind of going like this. And when you get close to the cymbal, if the mic was over here, you'd hear a really kind of weird phase-y, almost like there's a phaser on the cymbal, but by the time you're about this far away, you don't get so much of that. So it's a happy coincidence. I'm gonna see where we're at, in terms of distance. Where is that tape measure. Nice one. And maybe you can help me out with that, Alex, too. So, four feet, I think that's probably closer than four feet, probably substantially. Oh no, no we're just a tiny bit off. Four feet is there, so I'd say perhaps, first of all, let's take it up just a touch. Yeah, you can maybe do that over there. (metallic taps and rustling) Oh, that's probably, that's just about right. And, this is, I'm kind of measuring to the center point of this, this central part of the microphone, I'm just, It doesn't really matter what you, what part you do, as long as you do it the same on both. Were you holding that, like, in the middle of the snare, by the way?
Okay good, I didn't even look. And then, this microphone. If I was to place that at the same height, and kind of cover these cymbals, you'd get, the distance would be way too far. This would be much more than four feet away, so generally what I do, is I come in a little bit lower, and it looks like we've maybe just got a small difference in distance. I try not to go too much lower than the other side, but I bring it a lot further over to this side, almost over the floor toms, and that also has the added bonus of picking up a really good sound off the toms in general. What you will notice, when you hear the overall sound, though, is even with the snare being in the middle, the toms are all gonna sit a bit to the right, which is kind of the case when you look at the kit. The rack tom is actually a little bit to the right. When I pan the close mics at the toms, I'm generally going to pan them a bit wider. If you really don't like that, you would probably have to get that mic more over the rack toms and deal with the snare being really far over to the left, so this is kind of the best way that I've found to do it. Let's see, I think just by bringing this closer, we can probably get the four feet thing going on pretty well. And on this side, just with Matt's set-up, I'm trying to get somewhere between the crash and the china. Chinas are really loud, but they're a lot lower in pitch, and they can quite easily get lost. We are going to put a close mic on the china, but as much as possible, I want to use the overheads. This box cymbal down here is definitely going to need a close mic, though, but I'm gonna try and cover as much of it as I can. Let's see...
Tape measure is there if you need it.
Yeah, I'm just eyeballing it, I think I'm gonna have to maybe bring it down just a touch. Nope, probably better zero in on this, and maybe even bring it a bit closer. Actually, I probably reckon that's gonna be about good, let's see. If you'd take that end... Let's see. Oh, look at that.
Yeah it's right at four feet.
That's exactly four feet.
Cool. The four feet thing is not like a really strict rule, but it's always my starting point, and it's never failed me. I've never actually moved the overheads after hearing it. It's always a really nice balance of great representation of the snare, like really great body in the snare drum, and the cymbals are really wide, but they're also kind of naturally placed as they are in the kit. I have in the past, tried to get really extreme panning of the cymbals, it just kinda sounds unnatural to me after awhile, and you do start to lose the outer cymbals, like the crashes are out here, and actually the china and hi-hat kinda drift in, just because of the way the mics are picking them up. So, haven't even talked about the mics that I'm using. In this case, I'm using, again, my own mics, these are AKG C414's. They're quite old ones. They are kind of my Holy Grail overhead mics. I do like to use small diaphragm condensers, too, but using a large diaphragm condenser like this really picks up the body off the shells. It might be that when we come to mixing, we're going to be cutting some of that out, but hopefully you'll hear, when you hear this, that, especially the snare drum sounds absolutely awesome in the overheads, and it's really nice to have that there, rather than just using the overheads for the cymbal sound, and those are in cardioid mode, they are in multi-pattern, but that's how we're using them. And then to supplement the overheads, we're just gonna put some close mics on the cymbals. These are going to be really quiet in the mix, and as a result, I'm not going to say that they're that, that the positioning is that crucial. Again, mine will be a very popular opinion. There's just a few things which I like to do. One is with the hi-hat, I like to get the mic pointed more in towards the center of the hi-hat than towards the edge. It can sound a bit too, low, like bass-y almost, if you go towards the edge you can get a lot of the air off the outside edge. By going towards the center, it's a thinner sound, but to me it's more coherent with what the overhead mic's picking up, and I don't really like recordings where you can hear the hi-hat sounds so separated from the general cymbal sound, so with these spot mics, I'm using condenser microphones that are gonna blend really nicely into the overheads, and I'm trying to get sounds that are also just gonna to supplement that rather than, like, really provide the basis of those sounds. So, this is pretty, pretty close. I might even go a bit further in and down, maybe up a little bit. Since there's nothing, really going on on this side, I can even angle this more, and reject more of the kit. I'm just worried of getting it too close to that crash there. That's probably a good starting point, there, I think. I'm not so worried about capturing the actual point where the stick's hitting the hi-hat, really just trying to get the, the splashiness and like the "chick" sound when it's closed as well, get like, the brightness from that. We are also gonna mic the right, and just because of the proximity to this crash, I'm gonna mic it from underneath. Miking underneath with a ride tends to work really well. I don't really like it on other cymbals. I don't like it on the hi-hat, but it is gonna reject, it's gonna be much more direct sound on the right cymbal than if we came in over the top. You're gonna not hear very much of the rest of the cymbals, because this is a very thick piece of metal that's gonna just block the sound from the crash cymbals and stuff. I'm gonna try and get fairly close up on it, and I'm going to point somewhere fairly close to the bell, and we'll see how that sounds. I might move that a little bit, but again, I'm not going to be leaning on it for my right sound, so I'm not gonna really stress too much about the exact placement on that, and is also about saving time. This box cymbal here, I'm actually gonna mic from underneath as well, having said that I wasn't gonna do that, but since this does move a little bit, and I'm very close to it, I'm gonna try and find the point-- Matt, if you would just rest your stick on it, like apply some weight from where you're sitting. (metallic tap) Would that be roughly where you'd strike it?
Yeah, right around here.
Cool, and if you'd let go. So, it's kind of a line coming across here. I'm gonna shift this underneath, and like that. Ultimately, that's a really trashy sounding cymbal, and I could, maybe, go with a really trashy sounding mic on it, and just make it sound really dirty, and maybe the placement doesn't even matter that much. If it sounds a bit wobbly, it could be cool, it could enhance the sound of that cymbal. But, for now, we're just gonna stick with a really tried and tested placement that I know is gonna work.
When you have the mics that close for the spot mics, do you find you get a lot of that, kind of phase-y sort of sound? Do you ever--
If you, yeah,
Jump a little further off,
Yeah, I wouldn't do it with like, a crash cymbal or something. If I knew Matt was gonna be crashing on this ride, which I don't think you are gonna be, I might, like, think more about that.
But you have less displacement of the cymbal?
Yeah, and this does move, but it's pretty tight, and there isn't that much sustain to it, it's a very short sound, so I'm not so worried about it.
Yeah when you play, you're kind of cradling it, too, with the stick.
It's not just like, one hit here or there, you're actually kind of riding on it a bit, so you can control. Learn to balance that movement, as you play.
If I wanted to, I probably could come in over the top, there is space, but this is just gonna give really good isolation. The one which can be really tricky is the china. Spot-miking a china, I'm still yet to find a way of miking a china that sounds good in this microphone, but I have got a way of doing it which works well in conjunction with the overheads. I think it's just the nature of china cymbals. They kind of sound... You hear a completely different thing in this microphone than you hear when you hear it in the room. But what I do is, I kind of point towards the outside of the, oh it's stuck on there. I point it towards the outside of the cymbal. But if I were to do that this way, I would get a ton of bleed from that side of the kit. If I were to point it towards this edge of the cymbal, you'd really get the phase-y-ness that we're talking about from the movement of it, so again, I'm gonna assume that the movement of the cymbal's kind of gonna be like this, so I'm gonna pick a point, here. It's probably gonna be about there, which also has the added benefit of being away from all the rest of the drums, and we're gonna see how that sounds. We might have to bring it up in height, a little bit, which will combat that phase-y-ness. If I can, I don't want to have to cut out the silence in between the china hit. You know, if a mic sounds really bad, you might want to just, find where the chinas hit, and then cut everything else out, and just use it for that explosive accent. As much as possible, I like to not have to do that, because I'm already gonna do that on the toms. It's just more work. So if I can, I'm gonna find a placement where it can sit quietly in the mix. When the china's struck, it's gonna do what it needs to do, but the rest of the time it's not gonna get in the way. We'll start with that and see how we go.
Can I ask a quick question about miking the top of the cymbals--
versus the bottom? I know with the snare drum and the toms, we talked a lot about how different, you know, the actual sound is,
than what the mic is gonna hear, above or below the drum, and with the cymbals it was more about, well, convenience, or you know, how out of the way it is. Do you notice that it sounds much different, above or below the cymbals?
It does, and I think it's to do with the reflection of the floor as well, and it's also about getting sufficient distance. With something like the crashes, which I'm not close miking anyway, I'm using the overheads, which I'm trying to get a whole kit picture as well. There is a technique, they call them "underheads," where you put microphones underneath the kits, but you get a completely different thing. They're very separated. There's no real image of the kit. If you hear it on headphones, it's almost, like weird how wide it sounds. And it just doesn't sound like the cymbal sounds that I'm expecting. With something like the ride, which has a pretty defined attack by being a really thick cymbal, you still get plenty of the attack on the underside, but on thinner cymbals I find that you really tend to lose that initial attack, and that's not so flattering. Hi-hats sound very different because it's physically two cymbals. If you're miking the bottom, you're kind of miking the less active of the two sides, and for me, you tend to lose some of that articulation on the closed hats, which is really important. I do want to hear the stick kind of coming through. So the top is better for that reason. Yeah, that's pretty much it as far as the spot mics go, it think. I have done under-miking on the china, and it can work. This is the way I'm doing it right now, and that works pretty well. Maybe I'll revisit under-miking a china and get a result that I like more on the next session I do. See how that goes. Every room is different, and depending on what the room sounds like, you might not even care about trying to capture it at all, but to me, the most fun part of recording drums in a good room is the room mics, getting a really, a lovely kit picture, but also getting an explosive-sounding ambiance that's gonna make the drum sound really big. I also find that's very difficult to achieve with just one set of mics. If I were to try and do that, I would probably use a stereo microphone that's gonna pick up all the way around like a two-ribbon, sorry, two figure-eight microphones positioned at 90 degrees. Ribbon mics are great for that. That's a really good way of getting the kit and the room, but if I can, I'll try and separate it out into more microphones. So what we've got going here, is an array of three microphones. These are two KM 84's, which are lovely condenser microphones that are gonna get a very accurate, but also very full-sounding picture of the kit. The cymbals are gonna sound present, but they're not gonna be harsh. And this stereo configuration here is gonna give not the widest picture, but it is gonna give a sense of the stereo spread of the kit. You'll notice I haven't come on, I haven't pointed, like, straight at the front of the kit. Because if I were to do that, I would get a lot of the kick drum, a lot of the rack toms, but the floor toms are getting quite far away from me, the snare is kind of far away as well, and I'm also close to the dreaded hi-hat. So by coming at it from this angle, I'm getting more of, like, a flat picture through the toms, and the kick and the snare are also more central. One of the reasons I like to put these on a stereo bar like this, and not get the widest image, is it doesn't exaggerate the difference in position between the kick and the snare so much. Both are gonna be pretty central. It's not the super wide image where you'd hear that more. This microphone I'm doing something completely different with, but I'm placing it so that the capsule is directly aligned with the capsules of these, just for the sake of phase. This, I'm gonna treat more like a trash microphone. Its a Neumann U87, which is a great microphone to use on, it's a staple of many studios. It's multi-patterned, so what I've actually done is I've turned it into a figure-eight polar pattern, so it's picking up quite a tight image at the front, but it's also picking up at the rear, and it's rejecting the sides. So what we're getting is we're gonna get a really direct representation of the kick and snare. It's also gonna get some of the sound that's bouncing around to the back, and it's gonna work well with these and the other room mics to fill out the rest of the stereo picture, but typically I'm gonna compress this very hard, and it's gonna sound really rockin'. Matt heard something from the pre-production we did yesterday and he was saying, you love drums that, like, just that microphone on it's own is like a, is a cool drum sound.
I'm pointing it downwards slightly, just to try to get a little bit less cymbal in there, but it's kind of inevitable that there's gonna be a ton of cymbal in the room mics anyway. The other pair of room mics you can't really see, because we've actually hid them behind baffles, and they're not very well lit, so I don't know how well you're going to see them, but there's one there, and there's one over there. And they're very wide. They are Gefell mics that are warm sounding condenser mics, and we've got those in omni mode, which means they're picking up sound all around, but we've placed them very close to the wall, which gives more of a boundary-mic effect. I could go into more detail on this stuff if you guys want to, but I'm also cognizant of the fact that we have to actually get some sounds. The reason for putting the baffles in front of them is to reduce the amount of cymbal bleed that's getting into them. Just by virtue of being covered like that, they are going to sound a little bit muddier than if we left it open, but I can cut that out and hopefully get a more shell-heavy sound. They're also not gonna get very much of a direct sound, so they're gonna work really nicely with this. This is gonna fill out the detail, and the direct sound of the kit, where those are gonna give a much wider, more reflected sound of the drum kit, which is gonna be much bigger. And these three microphones are gonna work together to hopefully capture the room really well. As a wildcard mic, we've also thrown a microphone out in the very reflective hallway, down there. I don't yet know what it's gonna sound like, but it's quite a common technique, again going back to John Bonham recording at the bottom of a staircase and miking the top. There's all sorts of fun stuff you can do with really reflective, non-treated spaces. It's probably gonna sound trashy, but its gonna have a big sustain, and hopefully just sound really powerful. We'll see what happens, it might sound terrible.
But, yeah. We'll see how that goes. So now, we should get some tones.