Note: when placing drum mics, it’s important to remember that sticks and hands and cymbals will be falling very hard near them, so make sure your mics aren’t in the way of the player or a rogue ride cymbal. This article breaks down mic placement to the individual drum pieces. Remember, these are just guidelines, always defer to the judgment of your ears. When recording drums, try to get your hands on the best sounding kit you can for your style of music. Get new heads and pay attention to the tuning. If it doesn’t sound good from the get go, it’s not going to sound good at the end.

If you have enough free mics and inputs, mic up the most important cymbals — usually the high hat and the ride (though you should ask first, some drummers may feel their crash or china are more favored/essential to the track). These mics may end up being mixed very low or cut out entirely in the track, but it’s still important to have them recorded, just in case.

Some points to consider:

  • If possible, use small diaphragm condensers.
  • Make sure to pad either the mic or on the pre-amp, as cymbals have a high output.
  • Feel free to engage a high pass filter, as many of the lower frequencies will be cut out later — it’s the higher frequencies you want with cymbals.

The techniques:
Place the mic over the side of the cymbal, about an inch or two above, while making sure that it is away from other drum pieces.If the previous set-up results in too much “swishing” from the movement of the cymbals, use your ear to move the microphone either closer to the rim or the middle, and move the microphone higher or lower until you have the desired cymbal sound.

Depending on the sound that you are aiming for, overheads can be used to capture the sound of the kit as a whole or can be used as cymbal mics.

Some points to consider:

  • Use condenser mics, preferably large diaphragm, though small diaphragm will work fine as well. If no condensers are available, dynamic or ribbon mics will be fine.
  • Be sure to have the pad switch on your mic, or on the console/DAW interface, set to -10 dB because the cymbals will cause the microphones to have a high output.
  • To clarify the sound of the cymbals and eliminate some of the ambient sound, you can engage a hi-pass filter either on the console or the mics.
  • If using your overheads as cymbal mics, we need to check the cymbal balances. If a cymbal is too loud, move the mic away and vise versa if the cymbal is too soft. Use your ears to get the best set up for you.
  • If using more than one overhead mic, check the polarity between the two (as well as between the overheads and kick and snare mics) and flip the phase accordingly
  • Make sure to pan your mics according to where they are on the kit, far left and far right, etc.

The techniques:
Use the technique of XY overheads, as discussed in the simple drum kit miking article. Place two mics over the kit, one directly over the snare, the other directly over the floor tom, and up from the kit about 2 to 3 feet, use your ear to dictate the exact distance. It is imperative to check for phasing issues with this technique.

As in the last technique, place one mic 2 to 3 feet above the snare mic, and place the second mic over the floor tom. Measure the distance (with measuring tape or a string) between the center of the snare and the mic above it, then place the second mic at a distance/height from the kit that maintains the same distance between the center of the snare and the second mic. The two mics will not look balanced visually, but this should eliminate phasing issues since both mics are equidistant from the sound waves the snare is producing. A similar measuring technique adds the bass drum into the measurement, making a triangle for you to follow instead of a single line.