Drum Recording Basics

How to consistently get great drum sounds.

When doing live tracking in the studio, usually the most time consuming task is getting drum sounds. It’s a large and dynamic instrument – adding a bunch of mics can result in a giant phase nightmare.

Different engineers take different approaches to drum miking. Some prefer super tight miking, while others go for a more open sound. As an engineer, I find it good to be flexible, and to be able to adapt to each session and the needs of different artists.

For me, a truly great sounding drum recording is more a result of solid performance and proper drum tuning as opposed to great mics and precise placement. Think about it this way – if the drummer sucks and the drums are out of tune, the resulting recording is still going to sound pretty bad even if you are using awesome microphones placed in the perfect spot.

The best advice I can offer to beginners is to start with the very basics. Listen to records you like and pay close attention to the drums. Familiarize yourself with what a good drum set actually sounds like – how things are balanced, the tuning of the drums, tonal quality of different cymbals, etc. Notice how the sound changes as you move around a live drum set. It is fascinating how much different things sound just a few inches in the other direction.

Remember, you do not need super expensive microphones to get good drum sounds. It is possible to get awesome sounding drums with a single microphone – if your set sounds good to begin with.

As with all things, practice is key to success. At first, learn how to get good sounds out of acoustic drums without any microphones around. Listen to how sound moves around the room. Learn good mic techniques (the internet is a great resource for this) and how to work with what you have available. Start small – just single or stereo miking for the whole kit. As you begin to do sessions and other experimentation, you will begin to notice what works well and what does not. Get as much experience as you can, and remember to enjoy the process.

Drum set up for part of the Tribe of the Mountain session