There are as many ways to record drums as there are ways to play them, from one mic out in front of the kit to the every-mic-in-the-studio-and-scrounging-for-more method. Whatever your approach, ribbon microphones are excellent for tracking drums - natural sounding, great transient response and the added advantage of handling EQ really well with no chance of harsh or grainy sounding tracks. Today, engineers are using Royer ribbons all over the drum kit and as room mics. You'll see this in the examples below.
Before the mics, mic pre's, recording system or anything else, your true essentials are 1) a great drummer, 2) a well tuned drum set and 3) no rattles or squeaks in the drums. Assuming you've got that covered, the first step is to find where the drum kit sounds best in the room. You might have to move the kit around several times before you find the sweet spot but it's well worth the effort! You can do this by simply listening to how the kit sounds in the room without doing any actual recording. Once the sweet spot is found, than it's time for the fun part.
Some of the most legendary drum recordings were made with very few mics on the kit. Listen to early Beatles records where the recordings were made on four-track tape machines. The limited amount of tracks meant that they needed to get a good drum sound with just two or three mics. A common practice was to place a Coles 4038 ribbon mic overhead, an AKG D19 on the snare and an AKG D20 out in front of the kit - the classic Ringosound. Old Motown records employed similar minimal miking techniques - since many of the sessions were done live with all of the musicians playing in one large room, minimal miking was necessary, and it helped reduce leakage problems. Eddie Kramer used three to four mics to capture John Bonham's legendary huge drum sound on many of Led Zeppelin's tracks. No one can argue with that great a sound! They're also perfect for Jazz!
Let's start with some simple setups:
MONO - Place one R-series mic in front of the kit, waist high, about 5 feet in front of the kit. Add compression - maybe an 1176 or a Distressor. Done.
STEREO - Place an SF-12 or SF-24 over the kit and an R-121 or R-122 on the kick, knee-high, pointing toward the center of the kick at a 45 degree angle, about a foot in front. Adjust the height of the SF mic to get the best balance between the direct sound of the kit and the sound of the room.
Usually, the higher the ceiling, the more height you use. Conversely, the lower the ceiling, the lower the mic. If reflections off the ceiling are a problem, place the mic toward the front or the back of the kit and angle it down 45 degrees. This picture of an angled SF-12 was taken at Capitol Studios - Al Schmitt was the engineer. Note the low ceiling of the isolation booth and the angling of the mic to deal with ceiling reflections.
Add a mic on the snare, if desired. SM-57 or equivalent.
These setups are great for a couple of reasons - simplicity (obviously) and for achieving a "vintage" sound. These setups are also perfect for Jazz!
Minimilist miking is good for some things, but most engineers today use a number of mics on the kit and at least a pair of mics in the room. Here we'll look at miking the drums on a more individual basis and show you how a number of engineers use their Royers.
A great place to start
is with the overheads, as they establish the imaging and the natural balance of the kit. Your overhead mics can be spaced closely or spread out for a wider stereo image. The R-122 is excellent for drum overheads - engineer Bruce Swedien's favorite overhead mic setup is a pair of R-122 phantom powered ribbons. For Omar Hakim's kit, Bruce used a pair of R-122's for overheads, an R-122 on the ride cymbal and an R-121 on high hat.
Mono overhead miking can be very effective. To capture a "cannibal vibe" in Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Alan Meyerson put one R-122V tube ribbon mic over each of three kits on the Sony scoring stage in LA. The drummers - Vinnie Colaiuta, JR Robinson and Abe Laboriel Jr. - played together simultaneously.
The stereo SF-12 and SF-24 are perfect for single point X-Y stereo miking, capturing the kit in perfect stereo without any phase cancellation. Pointing the microphone's logo at the snare drum centers the snare in the stereo image. Moving the mic higher and lower can make a lot of difference, giving the kit an immediate, punchy sound (close) or a more open ambient sound (further).
It's a great idea to use one or two mics in front of the kit; after all, that's usually how we listen. Here are a couple of options:
A single R-series mic 3-4ft. high about 4ft. in front of the kick. This will pick up the overall sound of the kit and can support your other tracks nicely - compress this mic to stun to add hugeness and compressor pump. Here is Richie Hayward's kit miked up for a home recording. This method also works very well in large rooms.
An SF-12 or SF-24 stereo mic placed 3-4ft. high, 4-8ft. in front of the kick generates a nice stereo image.
Now try the same position with the SF-12 or SF-24, but 6-8ft high. Engineer Steve Churchyard's mic setup on a Meatloaf Bat Out Of Hell 3 session.
A pair of R-series ribbons split tight or wide in front of the kit as room mics.
R121s and R122s both sound great on toms! Position the mic at a 45 degree angle, pointing at the center of the drum, making sure to leave enough room for the drummer's sticks. Here's another Bruce Swedien setup with R-121's on toms and high hat.
For a modern sound, combine an R-121 with a dynamic mic. Angle the R-121 downward at 45 degrees, and position it 10-14 inches from the kick drum head. To protect the ribbon from blasts of air, be sure to position the mic away from any holes cut in the head. The 45 degree angle protects the ribbon element by allowing it to take the low frequency, high SPL kick drum impact unevenly down the length of the ribbon, letting the ribbon flex without stretching it out. The sound of the R-121 in this position has often been compared to a FET-47. Add a dynamic mic, such as a D-112, 421, or even an SM57 placed inside the drum, to pick up the attack of the beater. Balance to taste!
Royer R-series ribbons have excellent side rejection which extend to the top and bottom sides of the mic as well. If you were to talk into the null points (the ribbed sides) of an R-121 or R-122, or directly at the top or bottom of the mic, you would hear next to nothing. This pattern is extremely useful for rejecting unwanted sounds in your recordings. Because the top of the mic is a null point, leaning the microphone forward - which points the top of the microphone directly at the rest of the drum kit - gives you a well isolated kick drum, almost as if you had a blanket over the kick and the mic for isolation.
For a more "vintage" sound, skip the dynamic mic. Brian Blade's live drum miking - R-122 on kick, R-121's on overheads, R-121 on high hat.
Position the mic a little further back for a nice jazz kick drum.
Although ribbon mics sound great on snare drums, they're a bit tricky to use without endangering the ribbon mic. Here are some tips:
Place an R-series mic underneath the snare with the rear of the mic facing the snares and front of the mic facing the beater side of the kick drum. Remember to flip phase with this mic so it will be in phase with the top mic as well as with the front kick mics. Compress to taste! This is engineer Dusty Wakeman's snare drum setup.
For a jazz or vintage setup, place an R-series with the front facing the snare and the back toward the hi-hat (remember, ribbons are bi-directional).
R-series mics are wonderful on hi-hat and can handle all the hi-freq eq boost that you can throw at them. You can get all the sizzle you need without the sound getting grainy or harsh, or leave the track non-EQ'ed and have a warm, natural high hat. Place at a 45 degree angle and leave room for those drum sticks. This is Bruce Swedien's high hat miking technique.
Sometimes it's a good idea to close mic the ride cymbal, just in case you find you want to bring out some detail in the mix without affecting the overall drum balance. It's better to print it and not use it than to need it and not have it. Ride cymbal miking on a session engineered by Steve Kempster.
Here's a great technique that might come in handy. Place an R-series mic between the cymbals, pointing the front toward the ride cymbal and the back toward the crash cymbal. The mic should now be at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Ribbon mics are bi-directional, picking up to the front and to the back. A bonus is that they have a strong null-point to the sides. In this configuration, you can get a lot of cymbal coverage without much snare. Try it - you'll be amazed.