Monday, July 5, 2010

Three Ways to CApTure the Skins

Here's an article I wrote for a local magazine that was never published. At the time I wrote it, my foot had been in a boot for four weeks. Enjoy!

Three Ways To CApTure The Skins.
I was having trouble deciding on the best subject for my first article, and then the pain came. From my foot. I sprained it. Badly. That started me thinking about tracking sessions and how will I mic those pesky drum kits with my limited mobility? And then it occurred to me - this would make a great article.”
For this month’s installment, I’d like to share some ideas that hopefully you’ll find intriguing. As with all things audio, there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Instead, there are many variations on a theme (so to speak).
Since I’m a drummer, I believe that getting a great drum sound is the cornerstone to any good modern recording. As such, I use terms that even a drummer can understand. For example, I use the term kick drum in place of bass drum. I realize there isn’t really any kicking involved but, this helps me tell the difference on the console between it and the bass guitar. Having said that, here are three simple and effective ways to capture a great drum sound.
The Classic - Kick, Stereo Overheads
With this technique I generally like to place a dynamic mic inside the kick drum. A pair of matched condensers over the drums (hence the term Overheads) completes the setup. As to where to place the overheads, there are several options.
You might put them in an X or Y pattern over the drummers head pointed at the kit. Another method is to hang them over the kit in a similar pattern. The X or Y is a good way to get a stereo image without creating any phase problems.
Another pattern is the spaced pair. This can give you a wider stereo image, but there’s a trade-off -- watch out for phasing. The cymbals are the quickest way to tell if you have a phase problem. If they sound a little “wishy-washy” or “whooshy”, you’ve got issues.
The Glyn Johns - Kick/Room front, Floor tom, Left Overhead
Glyn Johns was a great engineer who worked with legendary recording artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who. The drum method he was well-known for is also sometimes called the Bonham setup. Since I’m a huge Bonham fan, I think it’s kinda fun.
To start, place a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic in front of the kick drum. Typically, this is about two or three feet away from the kick and can be placed to pick up the front of the entire kit. Next a floor tom mic is positioned so that it is pointed towards the hi-hat or snare drum. Finally, an overhead is placed over the drummer’s left shoulder pointed towards the middle of the kit. Each mic is then panned and mixed to create the stereo image.
KSOH - Kick, Snare, Overhead
This is one of the simplest setups. It’s also a mono setup. Place one mic on the kick drum (inside or out), one on the snare (top or bottom), and one over the kit to pick up everything else. One placement method for the overhead involves placing the microphone in such a way that the drummer can lean over and almost touch it with his or her forehead.
These are just three tried and true techniques for recording a drum kit without using a dozen mics. I encourage you to experiment and play with placement -- have some fun without making it too complicated. There isn’t a session that goes by where I don’t change a mic’s placement, and some of my best drum sounds happened by trying something new. After all, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Rock. Roll. Repeat.