I received this question recently, and I thought it would make for a good “email lesson.” However, you can let me know if you still have questions about anything, and I might make a video going deeper.
Miking the Kick
On just about every gig I play where I bring my full kit, I’m miking my kick drum. Unless I’m in a very small, intimate setting, I always want some extra low end beef from the kick.
I can think of one specific example where I didn’t mic the kick, and that was at a private dinner party event in a small space. We were playing lightly while folks had conversation over dinner, so it was important we stayed very much in the background. I think this is the only scenario where you don’t want that extra low end. Otherwise some extra “foundation” to the sound is nice.
I like to be super simple and place a Shure Beta 52 inside my kick, laying on a towel. This may have started because I was lazy, or maybe it was just years ago when I didn’t actually own a stand for my kick mic… I’ve always just liked sitting the mic inside the drum and running the XLR cable out the hole in the top of the kick. A kick mic stand with it’s awkward, heavy base is just another piece of hardware to worry about on a gig, so I try to go minimalist these days and not bring it.
I started running my mic cable through the hole in the top of the kick, because I realized I was losing low end when running the cable straight out the porthole on the front. The cable was making contact with the front head, which was killing the resonance. By running the cable straight up and out, I avoided this unwanted “muffling.” I learned that tip from someone, but I can’t remember who. I’ve done this for a long time, but it’s one of those simple tips that can make a big difference.
Does the front head need to have an opening cut?
For miking in a live situation, yes. Another reason why I like placing my Beta 52 all the way inside the kick is simply because that’s more isolating. It’s pretty much only picking up the sound of the kick - no guitar amps, so extraneous sound from the PA, not as much cymbal noise, etc. When recording in the studio you can do whatever you want. I like to place a ribbon mic a couple feet outside my kick drum in the studio, because that beefs up the low end. I’d never do that in a live situation, though.
Miking the Other Drums
If I’m playing in a large room, I might consider using overhead mics. Alternatively, if I’m playing in a small room but playing a lot of brushes, I like using overhead mics. I’ve also set up my overheads when playing outside on a large stage, because that counts acoustically as an “infinitely” large room when you think about it. Basically, I’ll add an overhead mic (maybe even just one) before I add any close mics to the drums. Remember that if you’re mixing yourself well, you’re “hitting the drums and tapping the cymbals.” Drums are loud enough to speak through the mix, but cymbals are quiet enough to not be piercing and annoying for whatever room you’re playing in. If you’re doing this well, you can actually get by without using any close mics on the snare or toms.
However, if there’s an extra input on the board or it’s easy to do so, I’ll go ahead and add a snare mic. In a lot of situations, snare-mic-or-no-snare-mic really doesn’t make a huge difference. I’ve used my gear in a couple of church scenarios before, though, and I’ve liked miking the snare. That’s really just because I’ll tune my snare lower for worship music a lot of times, and that low-end “beef” won’t really be perceived by the audience without a close mic. When you put an sm57 (my go-to mic) on a snare (or any dynamic mic for that matter), the mic is right there on the head. The “proximity effect” falsely boosts low end so that you’re achieving extra deepness out of your snare. In a low tuning scenario, this does help a lot.
I’ll still go without miking toms most of the time, since I personally don’t use a ton of close mics on the toms in my personal mixing anyways. Even if I have the mics and there are enough inputs on the board, I’ll still just use kick-snare-overheads and that sounds perfectly fine. I recently live-tracked my band’s rhythm section at my studio, and I didn’t close mic my toms. You’d never know listening to the recording. A good overhead mic setup picks up all the tom detail you need most of the time.
The Big Exception to All of This…
I play plenty of gigs on house kits (usually in churches). In these situations the entire kit is miked, and there may even be an additional hihat mic and snare underside mic. Most churches prefer to isolate the drums a bit by putting up a shield or enclosure to prevent sound bleed into vocal mics. When a drumset is in a full-on enclosure that does its job and blocks out most of the sound, you need all the help you can get from the mics on the drums.
The cymbals end up being louder because of the high end reflecting off the acrylic shield, so the overheads usually become more devoted to picking up cymbals rather than the overall kit sound. A lot of engineers like using the snare underside mic to bring up the brightness of the snare a bit more, and they’ll use a good bit of the tom close-mics to increase low end thunder. Every mic takes on a specific purpose since the overheads aren’t able to get as nice of a “full kit picture” when the drums are basically set up in a tiny, cube-shaped, hard-walled room.
Btw, I’m not hating on enclosures… well.. I can’t say I love them. But we have to make the most of what engineers like to do with us. ;)
So to sum all this up… Mic based on room size, musical style and volume, and the type of gig you’re playing.
If it’s a quiet dinner party gig, don’t mic anything. You need to be more in the background and less noticed.
For any larger restaurant, bar, or club gig, you should definitely mic the kick since that provides the beat people want to dance to. If you’re having trouble isolating the kick mic, place it deep inside the drum directly onto the muffling material, running cable out the top.
When playing outside or in a large room, use an overhead mic if possible. That way you’re capturing more high end and attack to send through the PA so that you’re not having to hit as hard. Or if you’re playing brushes and need to be heard clearly, use overheads for that.
If you’re playing a musical style that “prefers” a lower tuning (like modern worship), use a close mic on the snare if possible. If you can mic your toms, too, do so. This will help translate the low end “beef” and thunder of the kit to your audience.
That’s all for today! Let me know if this helped you out and if you’d like to learn more.