When we think of the ancient city of Jericho, we think about the Israelites marching around the walls for seven days, playing their trumpets until the “walls came tumbling down.” However, historically speaking, along with horns, the Israelites played many percussion instruments (drums) during those seven days.
Fast forward to 2013 and we find that drums (and percussion) are still very important in churches and worship music. The big difference is that nobody wants the walls of their worship house to crumble as a result of drums (and the band).
The churches I work with are typically more concerned with making the drums quieter than making them sound good. Once the drums are quiet, I can use microphones to control how much drum sound the congregation will hear—at least, this is how things should work in a perfect world.
Most of my house of worship experience comes from working in churches that seat from 200 to 500 people. In rooms this size drums (especially snares) can be very loud. In an attempt to control drum volume, Plexiglas panels are often used in these smaller churches. There may be one single panel in front of the kick drum but what is more common is Plexiglas panels about five feet tall and about 2 feet wide surrounding the front and sides of a drum kit. I know of two churches that enclose their drummers in a Plexiglas room with clear walls and a ceiling—but I don’t know any drummers who like to play in such an environment. It’s torture to put a guy who just wants to play in the worship band into such an isolated space.
So, here’s how I handle the situation: I use plexi but in a thrifty manner. I like to place three, 2ft wide panels (if the church has them) in the front of the drum kit in a semi-circle pattern. Then, in front of the kick drum, I place an acoustic baffle. You can purchase an assortment of acoustic panels or make them easily enough. I carry a 24 by 24 by 2 inch piece of Auralex acoustic material with me just for use on drums. Once I have the plexi and Auralex in place, I have to place a kick mic in the proper spot. I prefer a front drum head with a port hole. I place my mic as far in the drum as I can while it is attached to a mic stand. (I use a few different kick drum mics—If you want a list email me).
Should the drum head not have a hole, I place my mic as close to the head as possible without touching it. That is about it for the kick drum. With the plexi and a baffle I can control the overall decibels of the drum and use my mic as an instrument that allows me to amplify that controlled sound. That still leaves the other drums, hat and cymbals.
In the simplest form of drum micing, I use just one overhead mic along with the kick drum mic, on a boom stand, centered above the drum kit. If you think of a microphone as an ear, then it will hear the loud drums louder and the quiet drums quieter. So your snare drum will come through the mix louder than your floor tom or hat. This is actually my favorite microphone set up for a drum kit in a small church. In the beginning of drum micing, only one mic was used. Listen to those early Elvis recordings and you will hear what I mean.
As simple as that microphone techniques is, there are a lot of churches that want every drum in the kit miked individually (not to mention the hat mic and cymbals). If I run into one of these houses of worship I try to talk them down a bit. I can direct mic a snare and kick drum and use one overhead and get a great sound. Using a cardioid patten or super cardioid mic, I can point the microphone a little off access from the snare drum and pick up a good hi-hat. A little EQ and I can get a snappy snare while the hat still cuts through.
Setting my overhead mic a little low toward the rack toms and I can get toms and cymbals. By adding one more overhead I can pick up floor toms and a stereo image of the toms and cymbals.
All those methods aside, I still have churches that want a mic on every drum plus the hat and cymbals. So, if I put a mic on the kick, snare, hat, two rack toms, two overheads and one floor tom. That would be eight microphones. I don’t have to tell you that is a lot of open mics. If I am going to use that many mics on a drum kit I want to gate some of them. Fortunately, the church I work in most often has a set of eight gates. I will generally use them on the rack toms and floor toms.
Should you be faced with this type of drum set up, simply set your tom gates tight enough so they only open when the drum is struck directly then close pretty quickly. That will eliminate having those extra mics from picking up other drum sounds. If your church does not have any gates, try setting the level of your toms low. You will still pick up the toms when they are hit and through your overhead mics. At any rate friends it’s worship music not a rock concert.
So, there’s no need to kill your congregation with your drums. Remember, we don’t want to bring the walls down.