Learning how to mic and mix a drum kit is one of the most daunting parts of playing the instrument. It’s not something that every drummer needs to do, but you’ll need to know what you’re doing if you plan on doing high-quality recordings.
In the world of social media, more drummers are filming themselves than ever before, so knowing how to work microphones is becoming a more utilized skill.
This guide will serve as an entry-level breakdown on how to set your drum set up with microphones. We’ll explain the basics of what you need, we’ll suggest a few good options, and then we’ll give a step-by-step process of how to place mics around your kit.
- 1 The Essentials
- 2 Drum Microphone Breakdown
- 3 Step-By-Step Drum Mic Guide
- 4 Final Thoughts on How to Mic Drums
Unfortunately, drum mics don’t just work on their own. There are several components that you need to create a small studio setup for your drum kit. So, before we get into the process of setting your kit up, here’s everything you need to have.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A DAW is computer software that allows you to convert the microphone signals into recordings. It picks up the sound signals from an audio interface, and then it allows you to work with them and alter them.
The DAW is where you control how your drums sound through the microphones. It’s also where you’ll create various tracks and do recordings with other instruments.
DAWs can be quite difficult to learn how to use, but the easiest ones to get a grip on are GarageBand, Logic Pro X, and Ableton Live.
GarageBand is completely free to use, so we’d suggest using that if you have an Apple Mac. You can use a free version of Ableton Live on Windows, but we also suggest looking into a DAW called Audacity.
An audio interface is a physical box where you plug the microphone cables into. The interface acts as the middleman between the microphones and whatever DAW you’re using. You need to have one of these for the DAW to pick the microphone signals up.
You get audio interfaces in all shapes and sizes, and most of them have a combination of preamps and line inputs. For drumming, we suggest getting an audio interface with at least eight preamps. That will allow you to have a full drum kit mic setup.
If you’re happy with a more minimal microphone setup, you can get a more affordable audio interface with only four preamps.
Here are some excellent audio interfaces to check out:
There are various microphones that you can get for a drum kit, and you should decide how many mics you want. You can mic every drum with its own personal microphone, or you could opt for a more minimalistic setup by placing fewer mics in smart positions to still get a full drum set sound.
The difference between a full setup and a minimal setup is control. When you have a mic for every drum, you have more control over your mix when working on the DAW. You won’t be able to edit and change as much with fewer mics.
With that being said, many drummers love the natural sound of a minimalistic drum mic setup, so you need to listen to recordings and decide what you prefer.
You need XLR cables to run from each microphone to the preamps on the audio interface. Most drummers tend to build up a collection of cables, but it’s important to buy ones that last long. If you buy inexpensive cables, they never last very long.
If your drum kit is in a busy room with lots of clutter, it also helps to get various cable colors. Having different colors will help you identify which mic the cable is running from when working with the audio interface.
Stands and Clips
The last thing you need is microphone stands and clips for your drums. If you don’t have clips, you’ll need more stands to allow you to direct the close mics toward each drum. It’s better to have rim clips, though, as using stands for close mics clutters your setup very quickly.
You’ll need two stands for the overhead mics. You can use a standard stand for the bass drum mic as well, but we’d suggest getting a short stand that is designed for kick drum mics. It will stay out of the way and keep the space clear.
Drum Microphone Breakdown
Most other instruments only need one or two mics, while drum kits require several. That’s the most confusing part about setting drum mics up. So, here’s a breakdown of all the different types of microphones you’ll need.
Dynamic vs Condenser Microphones
Dynamic and condenser mics are the main types of microphones we use for drum kits. Dynamic mics tend to have higher sound pressure levels, so they’re mostly used for individual drums where they’re positioned very closely.
Condenser mics tend to pick up clearer sounds, and they often pick up sound from a wider range. Instead of being directional like most dynamics, they pick up all the sound from a certain area. So, condenser mics are mostly used as overhead microphones.
These rules aren’t set, though. You can use any microphone for any drum. You’ll just have an easier time learning how things work at the beginning if you use dynamic mics for your snare, toms, and bass drum and condenser mics for your cymbals.
Overhead mics are arguably the most important microphones in a drum kit setup, so you should focus on these first. You can choose to have one or two, but it’s mostly better to have two so that your whole drum set is picked up clearly.
These are often referred to as cymbal microphones, but they pick up most of the drum sounds as well. Overhead mics will pick up a lot of the mid and high frequencies of your kit.
As we said earlier, it’s best to use condenser microphones as overheads. Condenser mics are more expensive than dynamic mics, and they also require phantom power from your audio interface. So, it’s best to invest in a good set of these first and then worry about the other drum mics afterward.
Here are a few matched pairs that we recommend:
Kick Drum Microphone
The kick drum mic is your next important purchase. The overhead mics will bring out mids and highs, so a kick drum mic will bring out the low-end beefiness from your bass drum. The overhead mics will pick your bass drum sound up, but they won’t make it sound meaty.
You can create a really good drum mix with just overheads and a kick drum mic. So, get a good kick mic to make mixing your bass drum very easy.
Kick drum mics are typically condenser mics, but you should get one that is specifically designed to use with bass-heavy instruments. There are dozens of dedicated bass drum mics available.
Here are a few of our favorites:
If you want a bit more depth to your sound, the next step would be to get a snare drum microphone. Dynamic mics work best for snare drums, especially since they’re the loudest and most piercing drums in a kit setup.
A lot of drummers also like placing a second snare mic underneath the snare. This brings more attention to the sounds coming from the snare wires, and it gives more control over the mix. However, we suggest starting with a single snare mic when you’re first learning to mic a drum kit.
Here are some good snare mic options:
The number of tom microphones you need will depend on how many toms you have on your kit. You have two choices here. The first one would be to get the same mic for each tom. The second would be to get the same mics for your rack toms and then another type for your floor tom that has more focus on the low end.
If you’re buying drum mics individually, we’d suggest going with the second option. Some drummers even like using kick drum mics for their floor toms. They make them sound very deep and beefy.
The overhead microphones will do a fairly good job of getting good tones from your toms. However, using individual mics for each of them will allow you to control their sounds very extensively when mixing.
Here are some good tom mic options:
Hi-hat microphones are typically the last mics that people tend to add to drum kit setups, but they can add a lot of punch and clarity to your hi-hat sound. Your overhead mics will be positioned closer to your cymbals, so the hi-hats often lack a lot of oomph.
You could either use a condenser or dynamic mic for your hi-hats, but we suggest going with a condenser mic. You’ll get a lot more detail from it.
You’ll find that the best overhead mic options work well for hi-hats as well, but here are a few more of our recommended picks:
Drum Mic Kits
Something to consider when looking for drum mics is getting a fully packaged drum mic kit. Most microphone brands offer these, and they’re one of the best ways for drummers to get full setups at reasonable prices.
Most drum mic kits come with two overhead mics, a kick drum mic, a snare drum mic, and three tom mics. You can find some with fewer included mics, and those typically include much higher-quality options.
When you get a drum mic kit, you don’t need to worry about picking and choosing appropriate microphones. These are tried and tested, and you can then swap mics out as you wish.
Here are some of the best drum mic kits available:
- Samson DK707 Drum Mic Kit
- Sennheiser e600 Drum Mic Kit
- Audix DP7 Drum Mic Kit
- sE Electronics V Pack Arena Drum Mic Package
- Shure DMK57-52 and KSM137 Bundle
- Earthworks DK7 Drum Kit System
Step-By-Step Drum Mic Guide
Now that you’re set with all your gear, here’s a rundown on everything you need to do when setting the mics up. This process will be mostly the same for both recording and live gigging applications.
Position the Kick Drum Mic
The kick drum mic will be the easiest mic to place, so it’s a good idea to start with it. The closer you place it to the resonant head of your kick drum, the more attack you’ll get in the mix. You’ll get a warmer sound when placing it far away.
So, you need to find a balance point between those. We suggest a gap of two to three fingers. That usually works very well.
You should also make sure that the kick drum mic is placed perfectly in the center of the drum. The sound won’t be as strong if you face it off-center.
Position the Overhead Mics
The overhead mics need to be positioned cleverly so that they pick up the sounds from all the drums and cymbals in your set. You also have to set them up evenly so that one doesn’t have a stronger input compared to the other.
You have two main options for positioning here. The first is the spaced placement, which is what most drummers tend to go for. You just need to space your mics far enough away from each other so that they pick the whole set up. Make sure the distance from the snare drum to each mic is the same.
The other option is the X-Y setup. We highly suggest this one for drummers who are new to mic placements, as it makes the mix easier to work with. In this configuration, you place your mics in a crossing pattern.
The higher your overhead mics are, the more drums they’ll pick up. If you position them low, they’ll mostly pick up cymbal sounds.
Position the Close Mics on the Drums
With the close mics, you want to make sure that they’re each pointing at the center of the drums they’re attached to. However, you’ll increase your chances of hitting them if you place them too high. So, you should do your best to angle them without raising their heights too much.
You should also place them in positions that don’t allow too much bleed in from the drums next to them. With the toms, it’s ideal to place the mics at the very top of each drum.
You’ll need to place the snare mic in between the hi-hats and your first rack tom. It’s best to place the floor tom mic to the far left.
Connect the Cables to the Interface
Once all your mics are positioned, you can run the XLR cables from them to the interface. Make sure to line them along the ground neatly so that there’s no risk of tripping over them. If you know you’re going to keep these mics in one place for long, it’s a good idea to tape the cables to the ground.
Most interfaces have a phantom power button somewhere. You’ll need to turn that on for your overheads and any other condenser mics that you may have in your setup.
Set the Gain Levels
Each preamp on your interface has a gain knob. On most interfaces, you’ll be able to see how heavy the signal is that comes through from each microphone. The higher you raise the gain, the louder the signal will be.
You need to raise the gain levels to the point just before they start peaking. You’ll usually see that the sound is peaking when a red light appears. That red light means bad news.
So, go to each drum and hit it as hard as you can, and then adjust the gain levels accordingly. You need to have the clearest signals possible coming from the mics, which is why you should raise these gain levels to the point just before they peak.
Do a Recording on the DAW
Once your mics and audio interface are set up, you can do a test recording on your Digital Audio Workstation. You’ll need to create separate tracks for each microphone and then record them all at the same time when you play the drums.
Make sure that all the signals are coming through, and then see what it sounds like when you record yourself playing.
If everything looks good, you can move on to the mixing and EQing stage.
Mix and EQ
This is where you’ll adjust the sounds of your drums coming through the microphones so that they sound as good as possible. Mixing is a skill that people take years to develop, so it’s going to be quite confusing at first.
The best thing to do is look up a few YouTube tutorials on how to get a good drum mix using the DAW that you have.
Another good option is to use preset EQ and compression settings. You’ll find these on most DAWs, and they’ll give you a decent overall drum kit sound without you having to do much.
Final Thoughts on How to Mic Drums
The more you work with drum microphones, the more subtleties you’ll figure out. The basic process of setting them up is fairly simple, but there are so many different things you can do to get various sounds.
If you don’t have drum mics yet, consider getting a drum mic kit. You’ll then need an audio interface and a DAW to run those mics through, and you’ll be good to go for recording. If you want to mic your drums for a live stage, you can plug them into a PA system instead of an audio interface.