TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 22 Recording Drums, More Detailed Mic Techniques (continued).

If you’ve been following this Home Music Studio series of blogs over the last few weeks, you’ll have noticed that we’ve dedicated a fair amount of space to tuning and recording drums. However, we are somewhat limited by blog space…..there are a lot of facts to get across, but we don’t want to cram too much into a single blog. So if you feel we have missed out something important, please get in touch to let us know and we’ll do our best to cover it in future blogs.

The Legendary Sheila E – Showing You Can Be Fashionable And A World Class Percussionist & Drummer.

All of us at TCM Music Group are passionate about everything musical and are always happy to answer any questions you may have about recording, mixing, mastering or audio restoration.

And just to let you know, TCM are offering some truly great recording packages and mix and master deals at the moment…..for more information, click here.

Last week we covered in some detail the kick or bass drum and snare drum. This week we’ll continue with the toms and cymbals, including the hi-hat.


If you’re recording a Jazz kit you will probably get away with using overheads to capture the toms. However, big rock kit recordings tend to mic almost everything. The problem is…..the more mics you use to record a kit, the more difficult it becomes to get good separation on all the mics and phasing issues become more prevalent……making the mixing process harder.

Jazz Drummer Roy Haynes – Showing Floor Toms With Mics.

Separation can be aided with the use of a Noise Gate… electronic device which is useful in eliminating unwanted noise. A Noise Gate effectively filters out sounds below a specified threshold whilst allowing sounds above the threshold through. So a mic on a drum could have a Gate in the recording chain to allow that drum to be heard, but it would cut out any other drums spilling into the mic in question.

But…..there’s always a but isn’t there?….Gates can cut out some transients when they’re not set up properly, which can adversely affect the sound of the instrument you’re trying to record. So, always take care and monitor closely the effect any signal processing has on the recorded sound by comparing the sound with processing and without.

We will cover signal processing in detail in a future blog.

Sennheiser 441 On Toms.

Good condensers or dynamics work well with toms. The SM57 with its tight polarity pattern is popular as well as the AKG C1000, the latter giving a crisper sound. Sennheiser 441s are also often employed, but quite expensive.

Position your mic of choice about 1 to 3 inches above the tom at about 30 degrees to the skin, keeping it well clear of any cymbals that might hit it. It’s important to angle the mic so that, as much as possible, the cymbals or other drums are not picked up by the mic. Hypercardioids often work best in this position.

Left – Mic Position On Single Tom. Right – Single Wide Cardioid Mic Between Two Toms.

If you have a pair of toms next to each other you may be able to use one mic between the two. As each individual tom will be off the mic’s central axis, a mic placed between the heads –  about 4-6 inches away from them, with a wide cardioid pattern – will work best.

Alternatively, you could try a figure-8 (eg. Sennheiser MKH30 works well but at about £1400 is very expensive). If positioned correctly, this should pick up the two toms whilst rejecting the cymbals above it. However, this may necessitate the use of a delicate and more expensive ribbon or condenser…..with the possibility of the drummer hitting the mic, you may decide it’s not worth the risk.

Miking A Tom From Inside Gives Greater Separation And Less Attack.

If you have toms with the bottom heads removed, this offers another option. You can position a mic inside the tom pointing up towards the head. This technique has several advantages. It keeps the mic out of harms way from the drummer hitting it. It also provides very good separation from the other drums and cymbals. The resulting sound will probably be more resonant but have less stick attack.

Other popular mics for recording toms are Sennheiser MD421, Beyer M88 and Audix D2.

Drum Kits Move During Playing – So Watch For Mics Or Mic Stands Coming Into Contact With The Kit.

Another problem to watch out for when you mic several drums is that the kit will move over time during a performance and the various mic stands and/or mics may end up interfering with the kit.

You could get metal stands touching or scraping against kit hardware and transferring sound through the metal instead of through the mic’s diaphragm, which will add an unusual quality to the sound.

Beyer Opus 88 Clamped To Underside Of Tom.

The answer – use clip on mics. There are some great mics available on the market eg. Sennheiser E604 or Beyer Opus 62/88.

Hi-Hat & Cymbals

The hi-hat produces lots of high-end transients and most of its sound is generated horizontally. Whereas the cymbals create sound above and below the metal plate in a figure-8 pattern (if you were to look edge on).

In addition, the height you position cymbals above the toms will alter their sound which in turn affects what is picked up by the mics. There are also cymbals which work better for recording than live work.

        Left – Octava MK319 Condenser Mic On Ride Cymbal.

Right – AKG 452 Positioned Under The Cymbal Pointing Up.

Having this information at your finger tips enables you to position a mic to pick up more cymbal by placing the mic above (or below) and nearer the plane of the cymbal to pick up less. Just remember to place the mic far enough away from the cymbal so that the two don’t make contact when the cymbal is struck.

Position Your Hi-Hat Mic On The Opposite Side To The Snare.

For the hi-hat, a condenser will give a crisp sound. Place it about 3 inches above the upper cymbal. Make sure it’s angled away from the snare to give as much separation as possible. Pointing it towards the edge from above will give a more hissy, crisp sound than aiming it at the centre, which will produce a more metallic sound.

Use Directional Mics On The Hi-Hat And Snare To Obtain Good Separation.

As I mentioned when discussing the snare, do not point a mic horizontally towards the hi-hat edge as the air blasts from it closing can produce unwanted ‘puffs’ or air blasts that can ruin your recording.

The AKG C1000 is a favourite with some, but not everyone. The AKG C451B cardioid, condenser is a very popular hi-hat mic with fantastic transient response as is the Neumann KM84…..but neither are cheap. You could try the Octava MK219 or AT 4041 which are more affordable.

You don’t necessarily need to mic the hi-hat as it will get picked up by the overheads (if you’re using them). But a dedicated hi-hat mic will give you more control over its volume in the overall mix, provided it has enough separation from the other instruments in the kit.


If you use a couple of overhead mics – 6 to 9 feet above the floor – you may find you can dispense with certain other mics on the kit. They will do a good job of picking up the cymbals and should give a better, fuller, overall stereo sound to the kit.

A Spaced Pair Of Coles 4038 Ribbons.

Large or small diaphragm condensers are the most popular choice but ribbons (eg. Coles 4038s) can give a warmer sound. Check out AKG C414/C451s, Royer NT-1A, Neumann U87/89s, AKG C1000s, Sennheiser MD421s and Octava MK012s.

There are several stereo techniques you can try from X-Y Coincident Pair, Spaced Pair, Blumlein and others . Each technique has its pros and cons. Some are better than others depending on the situation and the room.

A Stereo Spaced Pair Of Mics.

The Spaced Pair technique works well when the 3 to 1 rule is applied. If the mics are 3 feet from the cymbals (the sound source), then place the mics about 9 feet apart. This is not an exact science, but the rule seems to work very well. And don’t worry too much about getting the mics symmetrically positioned in front of the kit. Getting the correct balance between the mics is more important. The stereo ‘picture’ can be artificially wide but phase issues and comb filtering are more prevalent than with the X-Y option.

X-Y Or Coincident Pair Set Up. Right – Pair Of AKG C460Bs.

The X-Y or Coincident Pair technique uses 2 matched mics. Usually, condensers set up either in front or behind the drummer. There are no phase issues with this technique. The sound arrives at both mics at the same time because the mic heads are together. So there’s excellent mono compatibility, but the stereo width is quite narrow.

Ambient Mics

Because the drum kit is a loud collection of instruments (sound reflections are more apparent), your room will play an important part in the sound you capture. It will either enhance the sound or you will find yourself fighting to minimise the effect it has on your recording. So the use of ambient mics (condensers or ribbons are favourites) can ultimately improve the overall sound or ruin it. Of course, if they don’t contribute any positives you don’t have to use them.

Remember, in a Home Studio you could have access to several rooms so don’t limit yourself to placing an ambient mic in the same room that you’re recording in. You could place a mic or mics (eg. Royer SF-12  stereo ribbon, C414, SM58s or PZMs) at different positions down a hallway or in another room completely.

Experiment, you might get lucky. You’ll not only get a different quality to the sound, but it will arrive at the mic later than sound in the main room, so you will end up with slight delays that might work great or sound awful.

If you would like more details on these and other mic techniques, they are discussed in greater detail in this blog.

Next week’s Home Music Studio blog will look at miking percussion.

Any questions? Drop us a line or call us – for TCM Music Group contact details, click here. And if you find this blog to be useful, you could subscribe to it and tell your band mates too.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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  1. […] We covered drum tuning in this blog. A badly tuned kit will never produce a great sound. So if you weren’t up to it yourself, hopefully you got someone in to tune them for you. We looked at recording and the various mic techniques for drums in four blogs starting here…..from Part 19 through to Part 22. […]

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