Drum Overhead Miking Techniques

 

Reading time: 5-7 minutes

I like to think that drum overheads capture the bulk of the sound for the kit. This isn't always the case, as it depends on the style and the engineer. But for the most part, this is where you get the big picture of the kit. So let's talk about a few ways you can setup mics for overheads.

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XY

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Setup is pretty well as it sounds, put the mics right next to each over the kit, with one mic pointing towards one side of the kit, one pointing the other. The almost form a "V" when done right. The big advantage to this method is that the phase correlation between the two mics is great. If the two mics are summed to mono, such as though a phone speaker, there is little signal loss due to destructive interference. However, this miking configuration does not provide a very wide stereo image. If you're looking for something a bit tighter, this may be the technique for you!

SPACED PAIR

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This is probably the most common method for miking overheads. One mic goes above the left side of the kit pointing down, the other goes on the right. Each mic captures the side of the kit that they're on. This gives you a nice wide image of the kit, however this can certainly introduce some phase issues, and some weird panning side effects. You can match the level of the snare in both mics, however your kick drum will end up of to the side, and so will all the toms. I'll give you a solution to this later.

ORTF

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ORTF is similar to XY, however there is a space between the two microphones. Typically, there would be about 17 cm between the capsules of each overhead microphone, and they would be angled 110 degrees apart from each other. As you might expect, not quite the phase issues as the spaced pair method, but much wider than the XY pattern. Let's call this a happy medium.

MID SIDE

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I'm going to be totally honest with you, I've never tried mid side on overheads. I've done it on room mics and acoustic guitars but not overheads. So I can describe it to you. The "mid" mic is a cardiod mic point directly at the source (probably the snare drum). The "Side" mic is a microphone in figure 8 pattern, with the front and back being both perpendicular to the mid mic. Take the "side" mic, duplicate it, hard pan the original side mic left, hard pan the duplicate right, and flip the phase on one side. Put the "mid" channel panned in the centre to cancel the phase issues.

The best part of this technique is that when you sum to mono, the "side" channels cancel each other out (as they're 180 out of phase) and you just get the "mid" microphone. So the stereo image adapts into a mono image automatically. Cool! I'm going to try this soon and report on my results :)

RECORDERMAN

This is a weird one. One microphone goes about 32 inches above the snare and pointing right at it. The other microphone goes right above the drummers right shoulder, also pointing right at the snare. You then take a string or a cable and clamp it with the kick pedal against the front kick drum head. Then pull it straight up to the microphone over the snare drum. Wrap it over your finger at this point, then pull the remainder down to the middle of the snare. Hold all that in place. Then move your finger that was near the one microphone to the other microphone. Get as close as you can, and then move the other microphone to wear your finger is. Check out this video for a guide: Recorderman Setup.

This technique leaves a gap in the centre of the image for the close mics, leaves the kick and snare in the centre, gets a good wide image, and avoids mono phase issues. Try it out!

SIDEWAYS SPACED PAIR

So this technique is one of my own, and I don't know what to call it. So its the Sideways Spaced Pair. Deal with it! #trademark

In this technique, we're taking the principles of Recorderman and from Spaced Pair. I want to create the width of a spaced pair, but I like the natural panning of the Recorderman technique. So,  take the middle of snare drum and the front of the kick drum head, and imagine theres a vertical plane, almost a halfway point of the kit. In another perspective, stand directly in front of the kit and imagine a halfway point between the left and right, then move to the left and imagine a halfway point. We want to put the overheads equidistance from the mid point. A third way way to look at it is just rotating the spaced pair microphones so that the mic to the drummers left is further away from the drummer, and the mic to the right is closer. So what does this do? It puts the kick and snare in the middle of the stereo image, and it pans the hats and toms naturally in the overheads. It still has the wide image of spaced pair and helps create a better phase relationship. So its got the best of the Spaced Pair technique and the Recorderman technique. Give it a try!

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Well, that's drum overheads! There are more techniques out there, but these ones are the basics. Let me know if you have any fancy techniques you'd like to share!

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Cheers!

Brad
Velveteen Audio