How to best record a drum set is a slightly complicated subject. Most of the difficulty lies in the number of sounds you have to capture at once. A basic drum kit consists of:
One snare drum
Two toms (possibly three if there's a floor tom)
One bass drum
Two overhead cymbals
One hi-hat cymbal
For those of you who weren't keeping score, that's up to eight different sounds to capture. And that's just for a basic kit; you might encounter far more complicated kits when you record.
How to Mike a Drum Set
There are a few different schools of thought on the right way to mike a drum set. The first school says “more is more.” Place a microphone on as many separate parts of the drum set as you can so you can control the level and balance as you mix. Here is an example of a fairly extensive microphone setup for a basic drum set:
One dynamic microphone for the snare drum
Two dynamic microphones for the two toms
One dynamic microphone for the bass drum
Two overhead condenser microphones to pick up the two overhead cymbals and ambience of the drum set
One dynamic microphone for the hi-hat cymbal
That's a total of seven microphones! That also means eating up seven microphone channels on your recorder. You could pare down (or sum) the inputs to fewer channels, but that would defeat the purpose of miking everything. If you have enough inputs and you can spare doing it this way, there's nothing wrong with it. You will have great control over the sounds when you mix. Most professional studios use multiple drum channels. However, this might not suit your needs when you consider everything else.
The other school of thought says “less is more.” Use fewer microphones for a more ambient sound. The thought behind this is that a good drummer takes care of his own balance, so there should be little need for extensive tweaking. This is not always true; it really depends on the drummer. At a minimum, you can get away with two overhead condenser microphones to pick up the whole drum set. Although you can get a nice sound that way, it might not be flexible enough. Many engineers like to put effects on some parts of the drum set, and none on others. Snare usually gets some reverb, for instance. A simple overhead-miking setup won't give you the ability to add effects. For the most flexibility, the minimum you should use for a basic drum set is four microphones, as follows (shown in Figure 11-7):
Two overhead condenser microphones
One dynamic microphone on the bass drum
One dynamic microphone on the snare drum
Using that setup will give you a more open sound that you won't have to spend days mixing together. Putting a separate microphone on the snare drum allows you to tweak its sound and add reverb if necessary. Putting the separate microphone on the bass drum allows you to set the EQ on that drum if it gets too much bass and sounds “muddy.” You can get a great drum sound this way.
Figure 11-7: Drum-set microphone placement