Micing up drums for live performances
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One of the struggles of being a drummer is the huge task of micing your drum set, whether it’s for a recording or playing live at a venue.

As a performer, it is often very valuable to mic your kit for live performances. If you are looking for a guide on how to set up mics in a live situation, continue reading. 

Why is it Valuable to Mic your Drum Kit?

Alternatively, other drummers can overcome putting the mics on their drums by using an electric kit, paired with an amplifier. This equipment often improves the audio quality. However, many drummers still favor the tactile feeling of a real drum set on stage, which is where micing drums comes in.

One of the assumptions of a novice drummer is that micing your drum kit is insignificant if you already have transferred the sound into the public address (PA) you are transporting it to… but this is a false assumption.

There is a large improvement of sound quality in live performances if a mic is put correctly on your drums. The tone of the drums is deep, thick base hits, crystal clear cymbals, hi-hats, and dominant toms and snare rather than a live performance with dull sounds. Moreover, the significant role of a drummer is to be the central pillar of your band, so quality sound is a must.

Rich sound is equivalent to a fantastic band’s live set. Everything starts with how you place your mics. It is most likely to have great sound coming through the mains if you have a direct and robust signal going into the PA. 

Compare and Contrast of Live and Studio Drum Mic Techniques

The main goal of putting a mic in each setup is to maximize the range of the instruments. Thus, there should be a mic on your kick drum, snare, and an overhead microphone. However, you can manipulate the sound more if you are inside a recording studio. There are record engineers who prefer using smaller cymbals to regulate the fading or decay of the sound they produce. Additionally, you can also use more mics for each drum kit component.

A concrete example of this is room mics, which is used more in studio than in a live performance because it is an open area. Because of this, there is a variance in using drum mics between life and studio. So when considering micing drums live, you have to acquire excellent sound quality from your kit by using mics that do cancel or do not receive too many external noises.

The Proper Placement of Drum Mics

Kick Drum Mic placement for the Shure Beta 52A

The correct position of mics in live performances is a requisite in producing an excellent sound quality. As discussed earlier, a good minimum rule is a mic placed on your kick drum (generally about an inch from the resonant or back head), snare (pointed as directly towards the snare as possible, as to eliminate bleed from other drums/sources), and overhead to receive the sound from your kit. 

If there are extra mics to use, the next most important to mic would be the toms. Without mics, these can sometimes sound dull and quiet in comparison to the snare and kick (which are usually mic’d). Excessive overhead or cymbal micing is not necessary in live scenarios, because cymbals are very bright and often project well naturally.

This setup will enhance the quality of the sound entering into your PA. The mixing engineer will then have more sound inputs to tweak, and proper blending to work with. Thus, it will result in a better drum sound coming out from your mains.

It’s important to learn what placement of mics you have suited for your style, preference, and the specific configuration of your kit. Seek help and advice from other engineers, and do not be afraid to listen to their suggestions because they serve as your ears and ally to help you in mixing the sound that will be heard by your audience.

By micing your kit, you can maximize the quality and range of your instrument.

Recommendations for the Best Drum Mics for Live Sound

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Below are the different types of mic you might want to consider buying.

First, for kick drums, it is usually recommended to use something with a large-diaphragm as it often has a wider frequency range, unlike the small ones. These mics are specifically designed for this application and either sold individually or as part of a drum mic kit.

Kick Drum Mic Recommendations

1.) Shure Beta 52A 

2.) Audix D6  

3.) AKG D12 VR  

4.) Sennheiser e60211 Evolution Series 

5.) Shure Beta 91A Half-Cardioid 

Second, for your snare, a unidirectional mic is the most suitable. You can find many audio engineers who are using Shure SM57’s. It’s important to note that with any mic, the placement can change the sound. Placing the mic away from the snare will reduce the low-end and allow for a more natural sound. If you point it directly at the center, it will pick up more bass and a deeper thump, but can compromise the natural sound of the drum.

Snare Drum Mic Recommendations

1. Shure SM57 

2. Sennheiser e904 

3. Audix D1 or Audix i5

4.) Shure DMK67-52

5.) Telefunken M80 

Thirdly, for the hi-hats, many sound engineers prefer using small diaphragm condenser mics. These mics are capable of recording high-end with a crisp and more natural sound. Moreover, a condenser mic is more sensitive than dynamic microphones, which is why it’s important to be cautious with the placement and usage in order to avoid unwanted sounds such as feedback loops.

Hi-Hat Mic Recommendations

1. Shure SM81 

2. Audio-Technica AT4041 

3. Rode M3 

4. Behringer B-5

5. AKG P170 

Fourth, overhead microphones are often unidirectional microphones. They can be either dynamic or condenser mics with small diaphragms. Mics that sound good on hi-hats also work well as overhead microphones. They can be pointed down towards the drums to pick up most of the kit sound without too much background noise.

There are three primary considerations when placing overhead microphones in your drum kit:

1. Range – Consider your stereo field: do you want it narrow or wide?

2. Delayed sounds or Phasing Difficulties – If you use many mics, there is a greater possibility of having delays in signals while transmitting the sound, or phasing. Overhead mics should accentuate the sounds and not aggravate it.

3. The Same Pair of Mics – Using the same pair of mics, especially as drum overheads, can guarantee the same sound quality, making your drum sounds consistent.

Overhead Mic Recommendations

1. Oktava MK-012 

2. Rode NT-5 

3 Rode M5 

4.) AKG C214 

5. LyxPro SDPC-2 

Lastly, for your toms, you want dynamic microphones with proper drum clips. The Shure SM57 works well here again. Moreover, it is ideal to invest in reliable and sturdy microphones that can endure accidental hits from playing the drums.

Tom Mic Recommendation

1. Sennheiser E604

2. AKG C414 EB 

3. Audio-Technica ATM250 

4. Beyerdynamic M201TG 

5. Sennheiser MD 421

6. Audix D2 or D4

Investing in the Right Microphone

Don’t worry about having the best and most expensive drum mics. It’s most important to consider your budget and the equipment at your disposal. You can start by investing in a minimal setup of higher quality mics, and build from there. For now, it’s important to first learn the proper ways of placing mics on your drum kit. Practice, ask other engineers/drummers, and study which configuration or build is the most suitable for your style as a drummer.

Always remember this quote of Brendan Jones, “Practice from the head. Play from the heart.” 

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