Unconventional & Alternative Drum Miking Techniques

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The good folk at AKG recently sent us some really handy diagrams and suggestions for drum miking that correspond with their off-the-shelf drum microphone bundles. These are solid solutions for every budget, and fit in beautifully with that well-worn channel strip layout of kick, snare, hats, rack 1&2, OH L&R. But that got us to thinking – what about thinking laterally and employing some unconventional drum miking techniques using some of the same mics? Here’s our favourites.

Old School

This technique is not so much unconventional as it is time-worn and slightly unfashionable, at least in rock circles. Use a high-quality kick mic like the AKG D12 VR and then set up a matched pair of cardioid condensers like the AKG C214s with the high-pass switched in as overheads. Listen to the results and adjust the overhead’s position to capture a realistic stereo image of the whole kit. Remember – there is no law to say the overheads have to be in front of the kit – try them behind the drummer or anywhere else that works. This is how a lot of jazz is recorded, and produces a really natural sound. If there’s not too much volume on your stage, this can work really well live, too. If you’re in the studio, set up an AKG C314 in omni mode a few metres away to add room ambience.

Far Out, Man

Australian psych legend Kevin Parker of Tame Impala is well-known for pulling an amazing vintage tone out of his drum kit with just three microphones – two dynamics and a condenser. Kevin is understandably reticent about explaining exactly how he achieves his signature sound, but it’s all about careful placement and then smashing the whole lot through a vintage compressor.

AKG_DrumSet Premium

To have a go at cracking the fabric of the universe open with your mystical aura, take an AKG P820 tube condenser and place it as an overhead. Get two AKG D40 dynamic mics and place one on the kick. Position the other as a snare mic, but, and this is the trick, not where you’d normally put it – try up quite high and a little back. This is all about using bleed, which is usually your enemy, to your advantage. Route the lot through a preferably original hardware compressor classic like a dbx 165 or a high-quality plug-in. Do not be stingy with the ratio.

The Sound of One Mic Drumming

Yes, one microphone. Just one. There’s a sound methodology behind this one – the less microphones you have picking up the sound of one source (like a drum kit), the less phase problems you have. With just one microphone, you have zero phase issues! If you have access to an extremely high-quality microphone like an AKG C12 VR multi-pattern tube condenser, can record the drum kit by itself in an acoustically excellent environment, AND the music suits it, then this will yield an amazingly natural result – you just need to set aside A LOT of time to find the PERFECT part of the room to position the mic. This also works really well on complex sources like pianos.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the option of hanging a something like an AKGC391 B cardioid condenser microphone well above the kit, and slamming it through a compressor with a lot of character on a high ratio for a glorious lo-fi bird’s-eye-view of the kit. You might also want to parallel compress, and mix together dry and slammed version for best results. With any luck, you’ll pull a sound much like John Bonham on Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’, which used a version of this technique using two mics in a stairwell in conjunction with a vintage delay unit.

Alternative Drum Miking Techniques
Alternative Drum Miking Techniques

For other techniques for Miking up a Drum Kt for Recording, check out our article from 2017

“How to Mic up a Drum Kit for Recording”

Also check out this video on Jon Burton’s Drum Recording tips: Listen & experiment to get a great sounding drum recording.

“Using your ears rather than your eyes is fundamental to success as a sound engineer”