Miking The Drums

I have received a few emails asking about how to mike the drums, and a couple of others about setting up in a church.

So, in a round-about way, I asked my old buddy Kyle. Kyle was the drummer for Fat Lewy (one of the bands David played in – and I did sound for), and he taught me how to mike the drums. So here is his response, with some limited edits:

Q What is the best way to mike a drum set?

A: Well, I’m hardly an expert. “Best” is partially a function of what kind of sound one wants, what setting (ie a stage, a studio, an outdoor space, etc.) and how one sets up one’s drum set. What I used to do for Fat Lewy is set one mike between the snare and hi-hat, one generally above the two mounted toms (which also covered the ride and splash cymbals), one over the floor tom (which also covered my crash cymbal). The one thing that I did which was unusual is put the mike for my bass drum next to my foot pedal, rather than in front of the drum, but that was because I had a front head on with no hole and putting a mike up there made it WAY too boomy. It is best to try to keep the mikes “in phase” meaning all pointing in the same direction (although that was not the case for the bass drum mike near my foot-pedal).

Jazz drums would not get “close in” miking. When I recorded jazz groups for my radio series a few years back, I typically just did an overhead stereo pair and one on the bass drum just to give it a little extra boost.

Thanks, Kyle. One point of clarification about the kick-drum. Usually it is best if you have a medium-size hole in your front head, so that you can put the mike on the inside, up close to the rear head, on top of the pillow. This will give you the best combination of “slap” and “thump”, and it will be in-phase, as Kyle suggests. In addition, the front hole will reduce the amount of time that the drum resonates, which is also good. If you have a double-sealed head, then Kyle’s method is the best; put the mike near the kick-pedal, not on the other side.

Note: you have just added 4 mikes on the stage, probably back near all of the amplifiers. Just based on proximity, you may have miked all those guitars as well, including (especially!) the bass. Remember to turn down the low tone controls on those channels (except the kick) and you may need to move the amps around a bit to reduce this unexpected pickup.

Last, if you have a mix-board with “group” faders, it is a good idea to assign all of the drum mikes to one group, and then control the overall drum level with just one fader. Once you have the balance between the various drum mikes set the way you want, you shouldn’t have to change those settings at all, unless there is a special song with unusual adjustments.

Q: How do I set up in a church?

(note: the following is intended to be irreverent, but not disrespectful)

A: Play outside and put the PA speakers inside – just kidding! Playing in a church is about the most difficult place on earth that has electricity. A church is designed to not need amplification. The walls are bright and reverberant, the ceilings are high and often curved or domed to reflect the sound back down to the parishioners. Even the pews aren’t padded! The reverb decay times can be several seconds long!

The biggest problem with bringing in amplified instruments is that they raise the minimum volume level very quickly. And drums will make it almost impossible; any drummer in a church should be playing with either brushes or chopsticks!

So if you’ve ignored all of these cautions, here’s what you do:

First, if the weather is nice, open all the windows. You’ve got to get the sound out of the room.

Second, place the amplifiers along a side wall; don’t put them up where the choir sits. Turn the amps to face the musicians and threaten them with eternal damnation if they crank it up. If you must have a drummer, put her in front of the first pew, and off to the side (note: don’t block the aisles needed for fire exits!). Put foam dampers on the cymbals.

Last, put the singers up toward the alter, and have them stand close together. They should not need a monitor. Put the PA speaker (just one!) just in front of the first pew (by the drummer), off to the side, facing diagonally across the congregation, just about standing eye-level high.

If you can, set up your mix board in one of the pews about 2/3s back in the hall, on the same side as the PA speaker. If you can’t put the board there, then ask someone you can trust to be your “ears” in the audience. Arrange some hand-signals or other method so you can know when it’s too loud, or just right.

The most important part of the music will be the vocals, so keep them as clear as possible (don’t add reverb!), and keep the low end out unless you have a basso singer.

Try to rehearse at least once so that the musicians can understand that you’re serious about keeping it low.

Q: But we have a big-time gospel rock “Sister Act” church. What should we do now?

A: Hire a pro. Seriously. There are professional sound guys who know how to set up a PA in a church. You may need to add sound dampening materials to the walls or ceilings, and you may find that you have to mike the choir and all the podiums, but it can be done quite well.

But remember that even the pros hate to work in churches – it is just a tough place for loud music.

I’m sorry if this sounds too negative, but a church is a place where every voice is meant to be heard without assistance.

I look forward to your questions and comments.