This Article Originally Published October 2001


By Michael Laskow

"How do I record tom-toms?"

Favorite mics: AKG 414, Sennheiser 421; most condenser mics work well.

If the mic has a pad switch, use it. It's always better to pad at the mic, rather than the console. If the mic doesn't have a pad switch, but you're seeing too much level coming into the console or hearing any break-up/distortion, try padding the mic input at the console.

Mic all three toms with the mics set at a 45 degree (or thereabouts) angle to the drum head with the end of the mic (the capsule end) pointing at an imaginary spot about 2" past the rim nearest you as you place the mic (this is assuming you're working from the audience side of the kit). The floor tom mic can be placed a little closer to the center of the head, but not too close. The distance of the mic from the actual head should range between one inch and six inches depending on how "roomy" you like your drums to sound. The further the mics are from the drums, the roomier the sound, but you'll have to pay more attention to possible phase cancellation problems.

Eq.: +2@100Hz, -4@300 to 700Hz, +2@5K or above.

Tips: Dampen the drums to reduce ringing using a little bit of gaffers' tape or tape a piece of feminine napkin to the outer edge of the drum head using gaffers' tape. Generally speaking, the more mid-range you roll out of the toms, the better they will sound, to a point. You can roll out too much, and the result will sound hollow and box-like.

Experienced engineers concerned with saving tracks will often combine the stereo overheads/cymbals with tom-toms, using just two tracks panned far left and far right for all the toms and cymbals.

Remember that a tom-tom is full of transients, so keep your levels fairly low to avoid overloading your preamp, tape machine or the tape itself. -2 or -3 VU or + 2 or +3 peak reading are typical levels.

"How do I record cymbals?"

Favorite mics: Neumann U-87, AKG 414, Neumann KM 84, Shure SM81

Recording overheads can be remarkably simple or incredibly difficult. The important rule of thumb is to watch out for phase cancellation. The overhead mics will often interact with individual drum mics causing phase anomalies which manifest themselves as dropouts at certain frequencies in any or all of the drums.

If your drum sounds get "cardboard-y" after you bring up the faders on your overheads, you probably need to adjust the overhead mics.

Typically, engineers will record the overhead mics in stereo, making sure to bus or assign the overhead on the left side of the kit to a tape track that will correspond with the other drums on that side of the kit (e.g., the right overhead should ultimately end up being panned to the same side as the floor tom).

Some engineers will start with the two mics about 16 inches over the cymbals, and point them straight down, looking directly at the center of the cymbals to achieve a more bell-like sound. Other engineers prefer to angle the mics toward the outer edges of the cymbals to get a brighter, wispier sound.

The closer the mics are to the cymbals in either case, the less chance you will have of experiencing phase problems. If you do experience phase problems, it's often fixable by simply flicking the phase switch on one of the mic inputs or the other. A good rule of thumb is to always make sure that the distance between the two mics is at least twice as far as the distance between each mic and the cymbal it's over.

To get a roomier or bigger drum sound, just raise the mics higher - try moving them six inches at a time. But remember, as you get farther from the cymbals, you increase your chances of phase problems.

If the drummer you are recording really whacks their cymbals, you may need to pad your mics or your mic inputs. If the mics you are using have a roll-off switch, then use it. Good chance you won't need the low end frequencies that the roll-off will eliminate. If your mics don't have a roll-off, you can use the high-pass filter on the mic inputs of the console to do the same job. If you don't have roll-off or high-pass capability, then roll-off 10 or 12 dbs @30 or 60Hz using your equalizer. Generally speaking, cymbal mic require very little, if any eq on the top end. If you feel that you cymbals are dull, and need to be brightened up a touch, try a smidge @ 8 or 10Khz. Be careful! A little bit can go a long way.

A little strip of strategically placed gaffers' tape can eliminate the nasty overring that some cymbals have. It can also mellow out an overly bright cymbal.

Experienced engineers concerned with saving tracks will often combine the stereo overheads/cymbals with tom-toms, using just two tracks panned far left and far right for all the toms and cymbals.

Remember that cymbals are loaded with transients, so keep your levels fairly low to avoid overloading your preamp, tape machine or the tape itself. -4 or -5 VU or +1 or +2 peak reading are typical levels.

Studio Buddy®, The Home Recording Helper, is a self-contained database that answers the questions most people have about home recording. It's FREE. It runs on PCs and Macs. And it's small enough to e-mail to your friends. To download your FREE copy of Studio Buddy®, just go to www. studiobuddy.com.


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