Tom Micing Techniques
The microphones that I have on toms, and I've kind of put them roughly in position on the rack toms, not so much on the floor toms, are made by a small company called Josephson, and they're called the e22S. Actually, they were developed by Steve Albini, the guy we were just talking about, in association with Josephson. I tried these mics once on a recording session a long time ago. They're really quite expensive, but once I heard them, I kinda knew that one day, if I was gonna keep recording drums, those would be the mics that I really want to use. The industry standard mic for toms, Can you grab that black microphone that's just on the side over there? I know they're all black.
That one, yeah. (chuckles) This a Sennheiser MD 421, and you will have definitely seen these on toms before, if you've ever looked at miked up drum kits. Probably 90% of, well maybe not 90, but a very large percentage of any drum recording you've heard has probably had these on toms. They are real...
ly good at picking up the body of a tom and the attack of a tom. The thing that I find with them, is they have very harsh sounding bleed, which is that the cymbals coming through in them, and you are gonna get a lot of cymbal in these mics there. They're even closer to the crashes than the snare mics are, and especially on that side, you got the China, and on Matt's kit, the spot, very close to the, the floor tom there. I find that the bleed coming through them is so harsh, that even if I'm gonna gate the toms or cut out the silence, you will hear very harsh cymbal bleed coming through in between the hits. It can certainly be made to work. I've mixed many projects and recorded projects with 421s with no issue. These microphones, however, are condenser microphones, they're not dynamics. They're kinda designed to have a similar frequency response to a dynamic microphone, so it's a, it's a kind of sound which is familiar when you hear it to what you might expect to hear from a tom-close mic. But the great virtue of a condenser microphone is that the bleed coming through is so much more flat. It really, you could pretty much use them as cymbal microphones. In fact, I think you can use these as overheads if you want to. The drums do sound a little bit better to me than with a 421, but the big tradeoff there, the big bonus for me, is the much more pleasant-sounding bleed that you get. They're also side-addressed. In other words, they kind of aim at 90 degrees to the body, which is a lot easier to place if you, in this case, it's not a problem, but sometimes, there's much lower cymbals. If you were to picture that there with a lower cymbal, or more cymbals over here, or more toms, you could really start to run into issues. Certainly on the floor toms, I don't know if you can see so well there, but this tom has a cymbal covering most of the outside edge. This microphone would be really difficult to squeeze through there and still get an optimal position. It might be okay, but there wouldn't be much wiggle room if I wanted to optimize that. These microphones are great for that reason, I can really fit them into tight spaces. Generally, for miking toms, I try, a bit like the snare, to aim kinda somewhere just a little bit closer than the center of the drum. Again, like the snare, you get more overtones as you move towards the edge, and that's not so desirable for toms. By not facing them at the center of the snare, of the head, we're gonna reduce the amount of snare bleed coming into them, and we're also gonna reduce the amount of cymbal bleed coming into them by aiming them more downwards. With these microphones, I've found that they're very flattering on any kind of positioning anyway. I probably won't even have to move these, just eyeballing it, they're just a little bit over the rim, and they're pointing in roughly the right direction. I'm sure those are gonna sound great already. Some engineers, and in fact, I as well, sometimes like to mic the underside of toms. It's kind of a luxury though. It's not the nicest sound in the world, it's very kind of, I dunno, it's not the full pleasing sound that you get from miking the top, but in conjunction with the top mic, it can yield a really cool sound. It also tends to get less bleed, so if you're supplementing the signal with another signal with much less bleed, you can reduce the overall amount of cymbal bleed in the tom sound. However, when we've got four toms, that means we're using eight inputs on toms alone. Even just when it comes to mixing, having that many tracks can be a bit of a pain. And I know I can get perfectly good results with just top mics, so today, I'm just gonna do top mics.
Would you use another Josephson on the bottom?
You could, and Steve Albini recommends doing that. He has quite a complicated technique that I can go into. It's not a technique, but a, the way that you can do things, you kinda create a system of two microphones, and reflected sound coming back from a distance is gonna hit both microphones at roughly the same time. But because the underside microphone is generally flipped in polarity, it kinda cancels out that reflected sound. It doesn't work so well for close sounds, and the two mics need to be at a similar volume in the mix, which is also something which I don't really like. For underside mics, I really like the cheap Sennheiser e604s. That's the same range as that kickdrum mic. Again, a lot of people kind of look down on that, but they're very lightweight clip-on mics, and they have a really full sound. Just because you can clip them onto the rim, it means you've got less stands around the kit. It can be a lot neater, and to me, it does a really good job of capturing that side of the drum, which is not too crucial anyway. So that might be what I would do for that. Should we move on to cymbals?
Well, actually, one sec. I'm gonna put these mics into position. To get at this floor tom, I'm gonna kinda have to come in I think here. It's always gonna be a trade-off, I could try coming in directly underneath this cymbal. I don't know if this is visible, 'cause it's very low. I would almost definitely have to point the mic almost straight down at the drum towards the edge, which can work, but today, I'm gonna try, and having done this in the past, this has worked perfectly well. I'm gonna come in here, and kind of try and achieve a similar placement to what I have on the rack toms. I'm just gonna have to pull this mic. Let's see. That'll... Yeah, probably about there. I'm also trying to make sure this isn't actually touching the hardware, it is a little bit. Okay, that's a little bit cleaner now. Now, invariably, if Matt's playing the spot cymbal and the floor toms, we're gonna get a lot of bleed coming through there. We might have to resort to using sample augmentation just for that section, using samples that we take from the kit. We'll see where we go with that. My primary focus is making sure the drum sounds its best, rather than having a microphone placement that is gonna sound really bad, just to reduce the bleed. I know that's the opposite of what I was saying about the snare, but with toms, it's a little bit different for me. And then, yeah, Alex has already gone and put that in a very similar spot. Actually, what I like to do with the floor tom, and it requires just jigging this a little bit, is try and get the mic to come in from a similar angle, so it's pointing away from everything, just back towards the back side of the room. With this mic, I'm gonna kinda angle it like that. Maybe adjust the placement a little bit. Again that should give, yeah, that's broadly correct. We can mess with that later, but again, it's just over the rim, pointing in towards the edge just a touch. Hopefully, that's gonna do a good job of rejecting all of these very loud cymbals on this side.