Recording Drums | What Preamp to Use

Recording Drums | What Preamp to Use

Tracking drums is an art form that takes time to develop. Choosing the right preamp to pair with your studio setup is never an easy task. There are so many options out there and it can seem a bit overwhelming. This article dives deeper into some of the options available and I give you some personal advice on the preamps that I like to use for drum recordings. 

Building a Home Studio | Top 10 Microphones

Thinking about getting a microphone to start or build on your home recording studio? Here are 10 mics you should consider. Ranging from Dynamic to USB mics that are great for singing or podcasting.

Recording | Drum Setup

Tracking drums is an art form that takes years to get right. There is a lot of trial and error, so get used to disappointment. You have to really grasp your mics, gear, and room. That said, there's one major problem with tracking drums. The drummer keeps changing. Not all drummers can be good studio drummers, so here's a few tips on making sure you get good drum tracks on your recordings.

First, studio drumming is not the same as live performance drumming. When you have microphones all around your kit, it does take a little finesse to get good takes.

Second, the drum setup is completely different in the studio. There needs to be separation between the high hat / cymbals and the toms. This means that the cymbals need to be raised up higher so they're not in the same plane as the drum heads. You may not agree with me, but your album will be all washed out.

Third, microphone placement is crucial! This one I can't stress enough. If you have a tom, a cymbal, or whatever the hell is on your kit and you only hit it once, get it out of there. That can be overdubbed later and does not need to take up real estate that the mics need.

These are just the foundation for a good drum setup in the studio. Leave comments or questions if you want to hear me rant some more.

How to mic tablas

Recent clients have had some tabla tracks on their album and these little hand drums can be tricky to record. There are usually two drums that rest on the floor supported by a circular cushion. The musician sits on the floor and plays the drums with their fingers and palms. Just to give you an idea of what I'm about to describe for the mic setup.

The drums have a rich tambour and resonating swell that are characteristic of the drums. I first started with a sm7 on the wooden drum that has a higher pitch and a Beta52 on the lower pitched brass drum. Focused the mics on the sweet spot of the drums and angle them away from each other to help control the bleed. This gave me good results, but it wasn't quite the sound that I was trying to capture. After listening to the recordings a few times, and talking to the musician, I decided to try a more traditional drum approach. I set up two condenser mics, one directly over the drums slightly in front of the musician about the same height as the musicians ears. The other mic was set up just off to the side of the musician about the same height as the top of the drums. This gave us a great sound for the over all presence of the Tablas drums. However, we lost some of the low-end the came from the brass drum. So I decided to put the Beta 52 just off to the side of the brass drum. This brought all the low-end presence back into the mix and gave us a solid performance the musician was happy to put on the CD.

Mixing Snare Drums

Robi Bean & Justin Fawsitt tracking in the studio.

Snare is the pulse of a rhythm section. It pumps movement into a song and supports the kick drum. However, the snare drum can be one of the more difficult sounds to mix. Snare is usually so prominent that it resides up front in the mix and usually sits right behind the vocals. So here are a few tips for good mixing techniques to get the snare in the pocket.

First, use good mic placement to capture the tone and ring of the snare that is desirable for the track. Typically a SM57 is used for snare tracking, but you may want to experiment with other mics to see if they give you a sound that is more desirable. I've used a Sennheiser e606 with great results for rock and punk snare recordings. Paired with the right preamp, you can really sculpt a tone that is your signature.

The next step is EQ. See if you can find the frequency that is prominent in the vocal track and then notch out just a touch of that frequency in the snare track. Also, use filters to help shape the tone of the snare so that it fits nicely into the mix with the other drum mics. As a sidenote, be sure to monitor your overhead mics as they will have plenty of snare sound. Sometimes there is a boxy sound to the snare around 300 Hz. Sweep your EQ around this frequency range and find the Boxee sound. Once you found the undesirable tone in the snare just notch it out a dB or two. This will help your snare cut through the mix and sit nicely behind the vocal track.

Behind the Scenes | Recording Engineer Clean Up Work

The recording engineer's work is not done after the session is over. The engineer must spend time working on the audio files to clean up unwanted noise in the files and make sure that fades are properly applied to smooth transitions. Back up copies need to be made and even though the engineer doesn't sit there and watch the computer transfer files, the engineer has to wait and check after the transfer is done to make sure that all the files transferred properly.

I'm usually in the studio hours before a session to check on timing issues and pitch correction. Returning to a session after taking some time off allows me to hear the tracks again with fresh ears. This way I'm more likely to catch little mistakes and focus on the recording's blemishes. This also gives me time to focus on ways to approach and produce the recording. I usually take this time to make notes for mixing the tracks. This way I am prepared for mixing as soon as the client arrives at the studio. If any re-tracking is required, will usually start there and then proceed to mixing. It's the little things like this prep work that keep my clients happy and keep them coming back to record more at Shine On Studio.

Selecting mics for recording live drums | Overhead Mics

Selecting the right Mics for a live drum recording can be a difficult decision. Drums tend to have an unique sound for each individual kit. You also have to take into consideration the style of drumming. The drummer is just as much a part of the kit, so based on how the drummers plays the kit should factor in to your decision.

Overhead mics are by far the most important decision you make when deciding to record drums. About 75% of your audio will come from the overhead mics. Overhead Mic placement is also a big factor whether you do a symmetrical or asymmetrical mic placement.

Condenser mics are usually the first choice for overhead mics on a drum set, however many engineers have had lots of success using dynamic microphones for their overhead mics (OH). The goal is to capture the essence of the drum kit. Putting the drums in the mix to set the mood for the music is the goal. How you sculpt your sound will define your ability to record and mix a quality production.

I like to treat drums as a single instrument and not a bunch of individual instruments. This way I can place mics where they are most beneficial to the recording. Sometimes I'll mic each of the rack toms + overheads + a Beta 52 on the kick. This will give me a more snappy and punchy sound to the kit that is great for a song that needs strong dynamics and percussion. Other times I'll just use a SM57 on the snare + Overheads + an AKG D112 on the kick for tracks that are jazz flavored. These are just a few examples, but versatile dynamics for the type of drums that will fit in the mix.

You can always place mics and then decide if they are relevant to the mix. Just watch out for phasing and over-ambience. The more mics in the mix, the more likely you'll have phase problems or what I like to call a foggy mix. Try starting your mix with just the overhead mics and mute all other mics. Listen to what the OH mics are providing and then slowly bring in the other mics. You should filter and EQ each mic so it fits in with the OH mix. If the signal is weak or disappears, then invert the phase to see if the track is out of phase with the OH track.

There's more to cover, so I'll open this topic up for Q's and discussion. Leave a comment below to add any insight you'd like to share.

Drum mics | Kick Drum Recording


The biggest drum seems like the easiest drum to mic, but this big fella can be tricky at times. You really have to pay attention to the music. The tone of the kick drum needs to match the tone of the music. This requires selecting and placing the right mic in the right spot to capture the tone that you need.

There are a few options I recommend. The Shure Beta 52 is a rock solid mic for any recording. It provides depth, punch, clarity, and snap that works well with virtually every recording. You can never go wrong when using this microphone to record your kick drum.

My backup mic is the AKG D112. This egg-shaped mic is versatile for many recording applications, so it's an excellent choice for those of you on a tight budget. Besides kick drum tracks, this mic works well for recording any instrument that has a lot of low-end detail. I've used this microphone to record congas, bass guitar, trumpets, horns, and vocals. So for the $199 price tag this mic carries, it's well worth the investment.

The third microphone that I recommend is a little unorthodox. The RODE NTK is a secret weapon that I like to use when I need a bit more slap in the kick drum. It's a tube-based condenser that has a magical sound when placed in just the right spot. Usually I find that spot slightly off-center in front of the drum head. The $499 price on this mic does put it in the slightly expensive category, but this mic can do it all. From vocals to acoustic guitar, this mic is excellent on almost any recording.

Hope this helps you get better kick drum recordings. Happy tracking.

Seeking the perfect drum tone

Blood Party tracking at Shine On Studio

Blood Party tracking at Shine On Studio

Our pursuit of bigger and better drum mixes is never-ending. There has been a lot of experimentation with acoustic sets, electronic sets, triggers, MIDI samplers, and loops. Though an eclectic combination of all the different sounds has been the best result, a pure acoustic set mic'd up is the ultimate goal. Aside from the obvious option of tracking on a Neve or SSL board, our experiments have led us to use different types of mics. Mics designed for tracking guitar amps have been very useful on toms. Using an AKG D112 on the bottom of the snare has given us some nice deep snare tones.