Drum recording is generally regarded as one of the trickiest tasks for an engineer. I’m here to tell you it’s not, as long as you understand the basic principles and have a clear vision of what you want.
I’m going to outline an approach to drum recording that will consistently work. This isn’t the only way to do it by any stretch, but it’s a failsafe.
The magic word is “phase.” Phase is essentially just a fancy word for time. Every microphone you put around the kit is going to pick up every sound at a unique time. The goal is to make those timing relationships make sense.
Physically speaking, when two microphones pick up the same source at different times they will interact constructively and/or destructively. The principle idea is to get all the microphones working together constructively.
We can start with the overheads. If the overhead microphones are placed at an equal distance from both the top of the snare drum and where the beater hits the head of the kick drum, they will pick up both in time.
An easy way to do this is to grab a string or a cable and hold one end in place by putting it against the kick drum and holding it there with the beater. Hold the foot pedal down to keep that end of the cable in place. Hold the other end at the center of the snare drum. Have someone pull the middle of the cable until it is tense.
You should be able to move the cable in an arc that runs perpendicular to the center alignment of the drum kit. All points along this arc are equidistant from both the kick and the snare.
From here, the next place to go is the kick. Specifically the outside kick mic. Grab a measuring tape and measure the distance from where the beater connects with the batter head to either of your overheads. Place your kick-out mic at the same distance from the batter head.
If you balance everything in mono and blend the kick in evenly with the overheads, then invert the polarity, you should hear the majority of the kick disappear from the sound. Flip the polarity back to normal and move on.
The mic is going to end up pretty far from the kick, so you may have to build a tunnel with moving blankets in order to filter out the rest of the kit. The only disclaimer is that if your overheads are placed high up, phase becomes less of an issue here. In that scenario you’re simply going to have to move the mic to different proximities and listen for what sounds best. I have a cool little video at the end of this article on basic outside kick placements that will give you some failsafe options.