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Recording Drums the Affordable Way!

An affordable way to make a recording of your drums that doesn’t sound so affordable

There is a saying that goes “there is only one way to do something, and that is the right way” and I am going to prove to you that these words aren’t entirely true. A drum set is the most complex of instruments in the entire world. Although seemingly simple and primitive, their characteristics are like no other instrument known to man

What microphones to use when recording a drumset

Recording a drum set is the hardest instrument to record on this earth. There are many variables and things to take into consideration when doing so. One thing for instance is what microphone to pick. There is a logical and smart way to pick each microphone for every drum and after reading this article, hopefully you will have a better understanding of what I mean.

Lets start off with the snare drum, shall we? The snare drum is probably the easiest and most affordable instrument on the drum set to mic. It can be done with a classic and fairly cheap microphone, the Shure sm57. About $100.00 in most music stores. An easy way to mic the snare is to place the mic two to three inches away from the head at about a 45 degree angle with the ground. It would be ideal to have the mic in the center of the head but that wouldn’t be possible because drummers play in the center in the head (usually). So it has become some what of a standard to record the snare with the mic about one inch from the rim.

Next we’ll move to the tenor or tom drum. This is yet another easy drum to mic, but there are some variables to consider when recording toms. The biggest one in my experiences is that the drums don’t seem to sound the same on the recording as they do to my ear when I’m playing. So I recommend that you tune your drums accordingly and test those out a lot with a good pair of head phones. I have experienced that tuning the toms with a great difference in pitch in relationship to each other makes for a better sounding and more articulated sounding setup..especially for rolls down them and other quick rudiments. A good microphone for the toms would once again be an Shure sm57. Use the same method for placement for the toms as listed in description for the snare drum.

The next drum to mic is the bass drum. This is probably the toughest drum to individually mic and definitely the most expensive. A great mic for the bass drum is the AKG D112. It is about $220.00 but well worth it if your budget has room for it. It gives the low pitch of the bass drum but offers a frequency response that allows for the slight bit of punchiness that lies in a true bass drum sound. There are no rules for properly placing a microphone on the bass drum but a good method is right in the center… its always worked for me.

Last but not least is the cymbals. Just as a side note: I think getting a good cymbal sound is extremely hard to achieve in reference to the overall drum mix. What I mean is that it is hard to mix the cymbal sound in with the rest and having it sound natural… not too over-powering and not too under accounted for. Some good mics for cymbals are the sm81 and the akg c1000s. The sm81 is about $285.00 and the akg’s are a whopping $185.00. There are two methods I know of for placing microphones on cymbals. One way is to put a microphone on every cymbal. This method isn’t very cost effective and is very hard to mix in with the rest of your drum track. The standard way of doing this is to place two microphones up high over the cymbals (about 2-3 feet). You can used a spaced pair or x-y pattern. Experiment with these methods to find your sound.

Recording the hi-hat is fairly simple. You should probably use one of the microphones listed under the cymbal paragraph and place over the hi-hat using the same method as for the snare and tom drums.

Some things to keep in mind when placing all of your microphones is to have them facing away from each other so that you get as little bleeding from track to track as possible. Bleeding between tracks is when the sound from an unwanted source is picked up in a microphone. I.E. You pick up the snare sound in the tom mics. The reason why you don’t want this to happen is because it gives you less control over your mix. You could up the fader for the bass, and bring up the already too loud toms with it.

What levels should you set each drum at?

This is a tough call but can be broken down into some basic areas of volumes depending on what kind of music you are recording on your drums. The levels are on a scale from one to ten. Ten being the loudest. They are all respective to their mix. A 10 under the metal category isn’t the same as jazz…you be the judge on they should weight compared to each other.


Rock/Metal/Country—ok all you straight time people
Bass Drum 9
Snare Drum 10
Hi-Hat 8.5
Toms 7
Cymbals 8
Jazz/Be-Bop/Funk/Fusion—ok all you cool cats
Bass Drum 6
Snare Drum 8
Hi-Hat 10
Toms 6
Cymbals 9
Classical—ok all you orchestral people
Bass Drum 8
Snare Drum 8
Hi-Hat 7
Toms 7
Cymbals 9

Ok, Now I have the Microphones…What Else Do I Need?

Now that you have the microphones, you need a few more things. First you need the obvious…Mic stands, xlr cables, and other cabling used. Now to the not so obvious for the non-educated music technology musicians out there. You need what is called a mix-board, mixer, or console. They are all the same things, they just have different industry names. Mixers come in a variety of makes and models and range in price from two hundred dollars to well over one million…so you have some choices to make here. I reccomend the Mackie 1402 VLZ. Its a great little mixer with 6 mic-pre amps (xlr inputs) and has phantom power also, which is needed to power electret condenser microphones, like the one I recommended for the cymbals (AKG c1000s). You will also need something to record on to, whether it be a two track tape recorder or a 24 track ’2′ inch tape.

Setting Up For Your Recording

Once you have your microphones set-up like as explained previously in this article, you need to set up other very neccesary equipment such as; your mixer and recording devices. Start off by setting up your mixer, which is the central part of your recording. It controls all levels and allows you to create a balance for the type of music you are playing, as listed previously. (see What levels should you set each drum at? for more information). Once your mixer is plugged in, get your mics plugged into your mixer, giving each microphone its own channel on the board. It is an industry standard to put the kick drum on channel one and the cymbals last. You decide in between. Then, use the main outs of your board to route your signal to your recording device. Keep in mind that if you are recording with digital equipment, do not allow the signal to clip or overload the machine(go above 0 db on the meter).

Thats basically it folks. Enjoy recording your drums.

Here is a break-down of the cost of a recording:

Bass Drum apprx – 150.00 – 225.00
Snare Drum apprx – 75.00 – 150.00
Tom Drum apprx – 75.00 – 150.00
Hi-Hat apprx — 175.00 – 300.00
Cymbals apprx – 175.00 – 300.00
Mixer apprx – 200.00 – 1,000,000.00
Total cost apprx 850.00 – 1,001,125.00

If there are any questions about this article be more than welcome to email me. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope it was informative to you drummers out there. Once again, thanks a million.

About zildjianmatt

An avid drummer, educator and author on all things drums!

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