Monday, January 9, 2012

Gear Up: Microphones Part 1

Although it's a joke in the professional music world, it's incredibly true: Don't ever tick off the sound engineer. If there's one person you should be bringing donuts and Diet Coke for, it's your sound engineer. No matter how great your equipment is, how well tuned your drums are, and how much you've practiced, there are some external factors that can make or break your sound. Not only the engineer, but the equipment being used.

Make no mistake, in most live settings larger than your living room, some sound reinforcement is necessary - even for drums - to get your best sound. Keep in mind that the job of the sound equipment isn't only to make things louder, but to give the audience true, high quality sound.

Let's talk about one of the most important factors: microphones.

This subject is debated by drummers, engineers, techs and manufacturers pretty heavily. Which mics do you use? Where do you place them? How close should they be? Today we'll take a look at the first of those questions.

Which mics should you use?

The first thing is to use the right type of mic for the application. For example, don't use a vocal mic on your drums! This seems basic, but just like some people think all drums are the same, a lot of drummers think that all microphones are the same. But in today's world, there are very specific microphones for each type of drum, and for overhead applications.

This seems like a pretty simple thing, but if you're buying mics, just ask the salesperson (or look on the box, for heaven's sake!) what the mic was designed for, and what its best uses are. Even better, go online and spend some quality time with Google doing some research.

Basically, you want three or four different microphones for a basic drum set up. Here's a list and some common models used for each*.

Snare Drum:
  • Shure SM57 (or Beta 57)
  • Audix D1
  • Sennheiser e604
  • AKG C418
Kick Drum:
  • Shure Beta 52A
  • Audix D6
  • Sennheiser e602-II
  • AKG D112 
Toms: (many engineers use a kick drum mic on any toms 14" or larger)

  • Shure SM57 or Beta 98
  • Audix D2
  • Sennheiser e604 or e608
  • AKG D40
  • Shure KSM 
  • Audix ADX51
  • Sennheiser e614
  • AKG C430

All of that said, probably the easiest thing to do, especially if you're just getting into playing with mics, is to purchase a "drum pack" from one of the companies on my list. I've been through three of these packs, one from Audix, another from a company who shall remain nameless, and a Shure kit, which I still have. Although I really do like the Shures, I'm not one of those guys who will only use one brand. I've found that I can get good sounds with almost any mics if the drums are tuned well, the placement is good, and the engineer knows what they are doing.

So, step one: get good mics. The rest? We'll cover that later.

Happy drumming, and good sound to you always!
* I know that I'm probably leaving out some great mics, so let me know what they are in the comments below!


  1. That is a very decent list of microphones for drums and I'll echo your point, always stay on the good side of the sound engineer!


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