Drums create the heartbeat of any pop-music song. Recording a drum kit is always a challenge, whether you want it to sound larger-than-life for a rock song, or detailed and natural for a jazz tune.

Let’s look at some typical ways to mic’ a drum kit. As always, these are just suggestions, and you can use any mic technique that sounds good to you.

First, tune the drum heads with equal tension all around each head. If a drum rings too much with ugly overtones, tape a folded napkin or handkerchief to the head, or use damping rings.

Toms and snare

• Place a cardioid dynamic mic with a “presence peak” about 1 inch above the head, 1 to 2 inches in from the rim (or even with the rim) , aiming where the drum is struck.

It’s a good idea to gate the toms. You’ll get a tighter sound with less phase interference among the mics, and you’ll remove the toms’ continuous rumbling tone that clouds the mix.


• Using one or two boom stands, place flat-response condenser mics 2 to 3 feet over the cymbals. The mics can be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart for wide stereo, or angled apart 90 degrees for a narrow spread. You might use a stereo mic.

Hi hat

Usually the overhead cymbal mics and snare mic pick up enough hi hat. But if you want to mike it separately, take a flat-response condenser mic with a low-frequency rolloff, and place it 8 inches above the outside edge of the hi-hat aiming at the bell.

Kick drum

• Remove the front head or go inside the front head’s hole. On the bottom of the shell, place a pillow or blanket pressing against the beater head. This dampens the vibration and tightens the beat. Place a kick-drum mic inside a few inches from the beater. For extra attack or click, use a wooden beater and/or boost EQ around 3 kHz to 6 kHz. Cut a few dB around 400 Hz to remove the papery sound.

Simple miking of a drum set

• For traditional jazz, sometimes you can mic’ the drum set with one or two flat-response condensers (or a stereo mic) overhead, and another mic in the kick or next to the front head. You may need to mix in another microphone near the snare drum.

• Clip a miniature omni condenser mic to the snare-drum rim. Position the mic in the center of the set, about 4 inches above the snare drum, over the drummer’s knee. With a cut around 250 Hz the sound can be surprisingly good. Put another mic in the kick.

Metal percussion

• Place a flat-response condenser mic about 1 foot away.

Bongoes or congas

• Place a cardioid dynamic mic with a presence peak midway between the drums a few inches away. Or mic both drums up close.

Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, microphone engineer (www.bartlettaudio.com), and the author of Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition.

Originally posted 2010-09-01 22:09:08.