Drums are probably the most exciting instruments you could play; they’re incredibly tactile, you can create interesting and complex rhythms, and drums make it easy to punch up your music. Drums can also be an incredible nuisance to record, so why bother doing it at all? Some people prefer the sound of real drums, but how many microphones does it take to record them?
You typically need 5-20 mics to record drums, though you can use as few as 1-4. More microphones don’t automatically guarantee that your recording will sound better and may make it more difficult to get a clear, realistic sound. Proper recording involves spot, stereo, and room microphones.
In this article, we’ll tell you how many drums you need to record clear, crisp-sounding drums, how to set up your mics, what you need to do to ensure your drum kit sounds good, and how to record your drums with microphones.
How Many Mics Do You Need To Record Your Drum Set?
Some of you might be wondering why on Earth you’d even bother recording drums. It’s easy to get drum sounds from various sources and integrated drum machines that many people don’t even bother to use a genuine drum set. Some people don’t mind putting in the work to record over microphones, though.
There’s also a distinct difference between the sound of real and artificial drums.
Some drummers that record would tell you it takes as many as 20 microphones to get good results. However, in this case, less is more because you don’t need half as many mics to get high-fidelity sound out of a drum kit. Regarding music, the term “high-fidelity” means the authenticity with which a sound is replicated.
It only takes 2 to 4 mics to record great-sounding drums. Adding any more mics could result in you getting muddied, unclear sounds in the finished mix resulting from their phase becoming incoherent.
Phase is the relationship between signals coming from mics sharing the same source of the sound. For the phases to sync with each other, they have to operate in time with each other. If the phases don’t match, the signals from each microphone can become discordant and distort the sound of the drums.
Is Authentic Sounding Drumming That Important?
Although the point of recording drums is to achieve a “real” sound for musical tracks, you don’t have to try too hard depending on the project. Certain kinds of pop and rock don’t require realistic drums, and you can always enhance or modify the sound in the final mix. The jazz and classical genres do need special attention paid to how much fidelity your recording has.
What Does It Take To Get Authentic Sound From Your Drums?
How you get the best sound out of your drums depends a lot on where you are.
If you have a professional studio (which we doubt anyone reading this does), then you probably have a booth made explicitly for your drum set. This booth would either have walls made of stone to provide bright reflective sounds you’d need for rock or dampened and absorbent so that there are no added characteristics.
Here’s what you need to know about getting authentic sounds from your drums:
Isolate the Sound
The isolation booth separates the drum sound from other instruments and keeps different sounds from clashing. Most people probably just record their drums at home due to the exorbitant cost of buying or building a studio. Many musicians likely have their drums out with all the other instruments; if so, acoustic screens are a great way to dampen any residual drum sound.
Mattresses and cardboard boxes can make great temp screens. Using cardboard boxes is as simple as stacking them on top of each other. As for mattresses, find some with wooden frames so that they’ll stand up on their own.
You can stand a double mattress on its side or prop a few single beds on their sides if you’d like. As long as you block the drums off from the rest of the instruments, you should have some degree of isolation. You won’t achieve complete soundproofing, but it’s better than nothing.
Isolation is about more than protecting the other instruments from the drum sound. It can keep the backline from spilling over into the drum overhead mics. A backline is the assortment of equipment placed behind the band, and it includes things like amplifiers and speaker enclosures.
To prevent backline overflow, hang a few duvets from the ceiling. Take into account your drummer’s input when putting up isolation, though. It could be hard for them to play without seeing the rest of the band.
Keep Your Drums Tight and in Good Shape
Tuning your drums is essential to getting the best sound possible out of them. Tightening drums is a pretty complex job, though, and it’s going to take a bit of time and patience to do it properly.
There will even come a time when your drum heads will need to be replaced altogether. Keep reading if you want to know how to maintain your drum kit.
- How tight should your drum be? It’s a common mistake for a beginner drummer to overtighten their drum. Often, when people first start on the drums, they tune the instruments too high, damaging their tone. When a drum is “choked” like this, the tone becomes muffled and uneven.
- How do you change drum heads? The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the old heads. You can take the old heads off by unscrewing the tension rods and removing the hoops; take this time to clean dust from the drum head. Put the new head on the drum shell and center it. After that, put the hoop back over the head, insert the rods, and tighten them.
How To Set Up Your Microphones to Record Drums
There are three general ways you can set up your microphones: spot (close), stereo (overhead), and room microphones. Typically they’re combined in various ways to capture the full nuance of the drum kit. Fusing the different methods provides mixers plenty of production choices.
- Spot microphones: Spot microphones, also known as close mics, would be placed close – practically right next to – a particular cymbal or drum to pick up a detailed sample of that instrument’s sound. Spot mic allows you to record individual portions of a drum kit.
- Stereo microphones: You need at least two stereo mics, and they should be placed a few feet from the drum kit from right to left to record the entire set accurately. Stereo microphones enable you to record the balance of all the cymbals and drums. The microphones are often a little taller than where the drummer’s head is, hence their alternate name of overhead mics.
- Room microphones: Room microphones are placed 2 to 5 meters away from the drum kit and are used to record sonic components of the drum kit and the area they’re being played in. These “sonic components” include equalization, dynamic, frequency range, and sound contrast.
For more information, check out our beginners’ guide to drum recording.
Although it can take plenty of effort to record a live drum set, it’s possible to do it with very few microphones at your disposal. 2 to 4 mics are all you need to capture genuine drum sound. It’s possible that the more mics you have, the less clear the recording may sound. You also need to isolate drums from other instruments to keep them from interfering with each other.
For more information, check out how to record drums and guitar at the same time.