Some of us may only have access to a limited microphone inventory in our day-to-day work, while others may have a wider range of choices.
Regardless, most tend to stick with “go-to” favorites in terms of both mics and techniques. There’s rarely if ever the luxury of testing different mics and positioning at sound check, so we opt for what we know works.
Amidst this routine, however, there are bound to be situations where a creative, unusual mic choice and/or technique is required save the gig. It’s a part of adopting a mantra similar to units of the U.S. Marine Corps: Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. With that in mind, here are some mic selections/techniques I’ve used or seen others deploy over the years to solve a problem.
Let’s start with the video director who told me he didn’t want any mics or stands, save for the wireless vocal mic for the lead singer, visible in his camera shots. Specifically, he didn’t want to see “messy mics around the drums” for the performance of a well-known band at a high-end corporate event in Vegas. We switched from mic stands to drum claws and clips in an effort to make the kit more “presentable,” but he still hated the look of the mics.
So I asked him to show me the camera shots he was seeking and then devised a solution. For starters, overheads and a mic inside the kick drum worked because they were indeed not in the video shots, but we still needed to “invisibly” mike the snare, toms and hi-hat. So on hi-hat and snare, we stand-clamped a single mic underneath each and then reversed their polarity.
And since it was a corporate, we had on hand more than a dozen wireless packs with lavs, so some of these mics were simply taped to the lugs on the side of the toms (with the small packs also easy to conceal). It all produced a surprisingly good kit sound and made the director quite happy. By the way, we also hid the guitar combo amplifier mic by placing it at the rear of the open cabinet and reversing that polarity as well.
Another non-standard drum approach that we employ regularly is using a standard podium mic on ride cymbal. It’s clamped to the stand below the cymbal, with the mic head able to be positioned easily to where it sounds best by simply bending the gooseneck. Podium mics can also work well in percussion setups because their small size and long gooseneck afford placement options not available with standard-size models.
Sennheiser offers a very small and effective dynamic element mic, the e608, that is attached to a small gooseneck and clamp and affords positioning in the tightest spaces. Another solid option when space is at a premium is the Granelli G5790, a modified version of a Shure SM57. It has the same sonic signature as the original but includes a bent shape that makes for easier positioning around a crowded drum kit. The Electro-Voice N/D468 is another mic that can get into tight spots, with a swivel head that allows pointing the element where it’s needed.
To help in positioning, some manufacturers make shorter/more compact versions offering all of the features of their standard-sized models. Good examples include the Heil Sound PR 31BW, a shortened large-diaphragm dynamic PR 30, as well as the Telefunken M80-SH, a compact M80 that even ships with an XLR cable with right-angle plug to further reduce length.
An interesting way to mike percussion when there’s no room for conventional units is to place a lavalier on the chest of the percussionist. Using an omnidirectional model that can handle high SPL, like a CO-8WL from Point Source Audio or the Shure MX150/O, allows the performer to play both hand and stick-struck drums, along with hand-held percussion instruments, without the mic getting in the way. Putting these on a wireless pack allows the player to also move about the stage during the show.
Speaking of moving, I was once asked to mike a piano that would be moved about the stage during a theatrical performance. The original thought of using wireless handheld transmitters wouldn’t work because they were too large, so I turned to lavs with wireless packs. The lavs were taped to the piano lid in a makeshift attempt at turning them into boundary mics. It worked great and is something I’ve subsequently used when the need arises.