Here’s a simple, common-sense method to record a great-sounding drum kit on only four tracks. I’ve always been a follower of the less-is-more philosophy, and this kit technique goes all the way back to my analog 4-/8-/12-track days when track economy was a must.
There have, of course, been volumes dedicated to recording “trap kits,” from only two microphones to two mics on each drum! I think the concept of a drum kit as a group of separate instruments is off-base. A drum kit is an ensemble and has a “group sound.”
To me, using a mic on each drum is like multi-miking piano strings. And using so many mics can become a balance, EQ, and panning headache—as well as a phasing nightmare.
Now back to square one: What exactly are you looking for in a kit sound? Most pop, rock, R&B, jazz and country music requires a good separate kick and snare sound and maybe a separate hi-hat depending on the musical arrangement.
But how about all those tom-toms? They have essentially the same fundamental sound with different harmonics depending on shell size, diameter and tuning. If struck properly, they will have approximately the same volume level, and most pro drummers will do this subconsciously. So a simple mic technique can capture them well.
If you are looking for an earthy, realistic kit sound that can easily be manipulated, try this out. You’ll need one pair of stereo mics, one good snare mic, one good kick mic and last but not least, a good location for the drum set in the studio.
Location is very important and is an oft-neglected starting point. I prefer to set up the kit across a corner. A wall will do as well.
I use baffles from the floor up to about three feet, and approximately four feet wide behind the drummer in the corner. My baffles are low tech, made of 3-foot by 4-foot jalousie window frames with 6-inch wooden slats. There are four layers of wool moving blankets behind them. Thank you U-Haul!
Other baffle materials that work well are cork faced bulletin boards with combos of styrosheet and blankets behind them. Portable office walls work well too.
The baffles reduce, but do not completely remove the resonances and reflections of the tom, snare and kick. We want some of these reflections for our kit sound.
Once the kit is set up with baffles in place, and tuned as you and the drummer want it, you can proceed with mic placement. It’s always a good idea to watch the drummer play for a while to observe where he places his hands and sticks while going around the kit. This will help you put the mics where he won’t hit them or have to move around them. We want him to be comfortable.