Matthew Sciaretta - recording and performing musician

Drum kit recording basics: single microphone on kit


There are many ways to record a drum kit, but one thing that baffles me is how many engineers skip over some of the simplest, most effective techniques. They rush to set up 10 or more microphones in front of the kit, many times without even listening to the drummer and the kit.

We can look at the drum kit as one instrument made up of several parts or we can look at it as the individual parts themselves. I don't know many engineers that would mic an upright bass player with a splattering of tracks, even though the surface area of the instrument is quiet large and there are many different perspectives on the sound of the instrument depending on where you stand. So, why must we always use a bunch of tracks to record a drum kit?

Not long ago in our distant past, bands like the Beatles and labels like Stax Records were making amazing recordings on multitrack tape with a limitation microphones and tracks. Rather than hinder their ability to capture the drum kit, they took one mic, listened and moved the mic around to find the sweet spot that picked the kit up evenly. Motown and Stax studios also didn't have the luxury of the modern, unlimited track DAWs that we've grown so accustomed to working with. Yet, this simple, organic sound has captured the love of musicians and fans and has stood the test of time. There has been a revival of folk and soul music. The single mic approach is perfectly suited at creating that classic vibe.

Part of it is that as a culture, our ears have grown accustomed to the trends of pop music for better or worse. Heavy, gated reverbs on snare drums and kick drums that make car trunks rattle are all lovely, but that's not what a drum kit sounds like if you just listen to someone play in a room. Multiple mics means the potential for phasing issues. Signal processing used incorrectly can absolutely squash a great drum sound.

So without further rambling, lets' discuss single microphone techniques on the drum kit. Over the next few weeks, we'll discuss the more popular single mic positions in detail. It's important to point out that when you are doing minimalist techniques, there is an infinite number of possibilities for mic placement. Rely on your ears to be the best judge. You want a balance of the drum set as one instrument, so no one drum or cymbal should be poking out more than the rest (unless that is your desire for the recording).

  • One cardioid condensor mic placed from 4-6 feet above the floor placed facing the kit, about 4-6 feet away.
  • Tchad Blake method - One cardioid, large-diaphram condensor mic placed approximately 2-3 inches above the kick drum with the diaphram pointed at the snare.
  • One cardioid condensor mic placed between the kick and the hi hat aimed at the snare. This can also be done low to the ground (carpet for obvious reasons) under the snare, about a foot off the ground, or backed away from the kit a foot or two.
  • One cardioid condensor mic (small diaphram) placed near the drummers face aimed at the kick.
  • One cardioid condensor mic above the drummers head pointed at the back of the kit aimed towards the kick and snare, about 5-6 feet off the floor.

Please experiment and find the placement that works for you. You'll be amazed at the results you can achieve with just one microphone on the kit!