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Live Miking

Drums

Article from Sound International, April 1979


Peter Pandall in action.


Miking up for drummers really began in a big way around the mid-1960s when bands started playing to larger audiences and guitarists started using large stacks. Up until this period mics on drums were not used a lot as the drums had an obvious volume advantage over other instruments. To any drummer new to miking up the kit, the questions can be numerous and varied — like: How many different types of mics are there? What are the best for my drums? Should you use different types on different drums/cymbals; and many more. Many variables come into the answers to these questions, like if you have a really badly tuned kit or the guy on the desk has no idea of how to get a good drum sound or how much EQ control (if any) is on the desk.

Presuming that your band has a decent rig, roadies who know their job, and a reasonable set of mics on the kit and, of course, an efficient monitor or two (so you can hear what sort of sound you are making, and also to hear the rest of the band), you should get a reasonable sound. The acoustics of certain venues can also make life more difficult if you are not used to getting a good sound straight away wherever you are.

The same PA and miking system may sound great one night at a place like Dingwalls and really lousy the next night at a big college hall where there is lots of natural reverb and a high ceiling. This is a problem that can only be overcome with time and experience. Again things are not in the drummer's hands but are dependent on the road crew and how good they are at adjusting the sound/volume/EQ accordingly. And, of course, how good the PA is.

Drums are not the easiest instruments to mic up and whatever I say in this article, there will always be someone who has a different opinion and who thinks things should be done a different way. But having talked to a few people who are responsible for getting a good sound for some big bands, I have reaffirmed my own knowledge of this subject.

Mics vary considerably in price and quality and the latter will generally depend on how much money you have available. Even doing it on the cheap or buying second hand, I would put aside at least £250.00, though at the other end of the scale you could spend thousands if you go in for, say, Neumann mics. And, of course, the size of the kit will influence how much you spend.

As a rule condenser mics are capable of a wider frequency response. The frequency of sound waves — which are tiny changes in air pressure — is usually measured in cycles per second. The A above middle C on the piano is 440 cycles per second, or Hertz (abbreviation Hz). The bass drum will probably produce sounds primarily at around 40 Hz and the snare drum around 2 000 Hz (2kHz), but the snare can extend above 4 kHz while the whole kit can produce frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz — almost the entire audible range.

To reproduce the sounds of a drum or cymbal faithfully, the mic must have a good frequency range without too much colour or dominance of some frequencies over others. Condenser mikes can usually take a lot of volume and provide a strong electrical signal. There are omnidirectional and uni-directional mics. The former picks up sound equally from all directions — front, back and sides. A unidirectional mic picks up sound mainly from one direction; one common type has a 'cardioid', or heart-shaped, response pattern. It is less sensitive on the sides and picks up no sound from the rear.

Positioning of the mics on the kit will to a certain extent be a matter of trial and error to begin with but the most common positions will be as follows.

For the bass drum, set the mic to a position level to the impact point of the bass drum beater, anywhere from just outside the front head to about 8in from the playing head inside the drum. A small floor stand will suffice if you are happy with the mic on the outside of the drum, but if you are going to position the mic inside the drum a boom stand would be more practical. For top toms the mic is usually placed 1in to 3in from the inside of the playing rim pointing towards the centre of the head. If you have single-headed drums you could try placing the mics up inside the drums from the underneath. This system can produce excellent results but is not always as successful as miking from the top.

Obviously, it is advisable to mic all the drums with a mic for each drum (if you like that kind of sound — Ed), but if money or space does not permit this, then careful positioning between the drums a little bit higher up will usually achieve a reasonable sound. If you are using this method, a little more gain will help — make sure the two drums are equal in volume. The same applies to floor toms, rototoms or timbales as top toms. As regards positioning, the best rule is to trust your ears and experiment.

Snare drums are probably the most difficult of all drums to mic up successfully. Because of the sound characteristics of a snare it can easily sound awful, so a bit more care has to be taken. The best position for miking the snare drum for a 'conventional' snare sound is similar to the tom's position. But this depends whether you want the hi-hat cymbals to be picked up as well. If you don't, then position a boom arm between the hi-hat stand and have the mic pointing down about 3in in from the rim.

Cymbals are usually miked with two or more overheads on large boom stands. This again depends on how many cymbals you use and their position. About 10in to 24in would leave enough space for cymbal rock and flying stocks.

Mics are generally delicate pieces of equipment and therefore great care must be taken not to keep belting them with your sticks. If this happens, move the mics further away and re-adjust the gain on the desk. If miking up your kit is a new venture then you will notice a different feel altogether when going through a sizeable PA with monitors around you. This is something you will get used to if you do it fairly often.

Here is a list of mics suitable for most uses on drums and percussion. I have listed several types for each purpose. The Sennheisers and Beyers tend to be a bit on the expensive side so I have listed AKG and Shure as well. If you have limited finances, the difference in quality of sound reproduction is not as great as you might think when you compare the prices between, say, a Sennheiser and a Shure. The average price of Shures are around £45 to £70 and Sennheisers start at around £120 and go up to £300 or £400.

Bass drum — Sennheiser MD441, AKG D12 or Beyer M500(C). All these mics have a good bass response and will handle high levels and are ideal for bass instruments.

Snare drum — Shure SM57, Beyer M160(C) or a Beyer M500(C) or M67(C). These mics 'hear' sounds coming from the front and suppress sounds from 120° off axis and are less prone to feedback.

Top toms — Sennheiser MD421 or AKG D1200 or D190. Good mid-range directional mics best suited for small toms.

Floor toms — Sennheiser MD421, AKG D202.

Cymbals — Overheads, Shure SM53 or Beyer 202E1 for gongs, bell trees or mark trees.

Rototoms — Shure SM57 for high-pitched toms or Sennheiser MD421 for 14in or over.

Hi-hat cymbals — AKG C451/CK1. This condenser mic provides super clear definition of the highs and will produce a nice clear 'chick' sound from the hi-hats.

Tympani — Shure SM57.

All these mics are very popular with a lot of drummers and percussionists, especially the AKG and Shure range.

There are, of course, other makes that are worth trying. Neumann make very good mics but they are probably a little delicate and expensive to replace if broken or lost. Sony have some excellent mics on the market which you may wish to experiment with. But whatever you decide, do remember that the difference between fairly reputable mics in the correct category is marginal. A lot depends on the PA, the desk and the guy who does the mixing, so if you are always getting a duff sound, it may not always be your mics. Always get your sound mixer to check screening on cables and earth leaks and other technical bits and pieces that I won't go into here, but which are nevertheless very important.

It is well worth pointing out that very often in live performance — and of course particularly in the studio — the musician has little or no direct control over the miking of his or her instrument or the sound which finally emerges from the PA. Very often miking is best left to the engineer — who has specialised in this art just as you have specialised in playing. This is not to say, of course, that it isn't useful for the musician to know about the techniques available for getting the best sound from the instrument. And the musician should, of course, be in a position to suggest modifications and alterations to that sound so that it better represents his or her musical feelings. So this article is intended not only for the musician in a newly-formed band, perhaps with an inexperienced engineer and crew, but for such engineers (who are often no more than the nearest available roadie). Yet it should also appeal to more experienced artists, who will surely benefit from a knowledge of the techniques available. Richard Elen

Peter Randall is an ex-pro drummer now working as a salesman at Henrit's Drumstore in Central London.

As you will gather from several remarks in this piece, and from drummers and sound people everywhere, The Good Drum Sound is one of the most subjective subjects in music — recording and live — today. As Peter Randall says, 'There will always be someone who has a different opinion.' So, in an attempt to sort out some of the opinions floating around, SI (that's all of us) intends to get together a meeting of minds in the near future on this very topic — Drum Sound On Record And Live. So, if there's anybody reading who'd like to contribute, or who has some ideas on how such a project should be organised, please get in touch. We think, at present, that it would be good to start the ball rolling by getting together some drummers, percussionists, engineers and producers to talk about it, so if you fall into any of these categories give us a call. Even if you don't, and you're interested, give us a call anyway.


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At Last... The Gizmo Show

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EMS Polysynthi


Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - Apr 1979

Donated & scanned by: David Thompson

Feature by Pete Randall

Previous article in this issue:

> At Last... The Gizmo Show

Next article in this issue:

> EMS Polysynthi


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