Drums are a staple instrument in almost any genre; rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz, reggae, etc… Knowing how to mic them up properly for a live performance can be challenging. It all starts with one decision…
How many microphones do you need for drums? The industry standard is 8 microphones – one per drum; bass drum, snare, hi-hat, 3 toms, and 2 overhead mics.
There are, however, many variations of this industry standard – some using fewer mics and some using more. Deciding what is best in your situation is… well, situational. Keep reading to see what will work best for you!
How Many Mics Do You Need in Your Situation?
Deciding how many drum mics you need will depend on several things and different combinations of those things; such as how many drums you have, what type of venue you are in, how big your audience is, what genre is being played, other resources available, etc…
We’ll talk about all these things and more so that by the end of this article you know exactly how many mics you need!
How Many Drums Do You Have?
This may seem like an obvious question, but it is by far the most important. The way you mic a 3 piece drum kit will differ from how you mic an 8 piece drum kit. Many of the same basic practices and principals will apply, but the implementation will be different.
So, make a note of how many drums you have and/or need to mic and let’s continue to the next point.
How Flexible Do You Want to Be?
As stated in the beginning of this article, the industry standard way of miking a drum kit has become one per drum. However, this is only a starting point for many.
Something you will also need to consider is how much flexibility you want over the sound.
If you are new to drum miking then you should stick to the one mic per drum rule for simplicity. However, if you are a little more advanced then you can add additional mics for more flexibility in getting the sound you want.
The most popular mics added are for the bass drum, snare drum, and ride cymbal.
- Bass Drum – In addition to the single mic typically placed towards the outside of the drum, you can also place a mic inside the drum and blend the two together for more flexibility in the sound.
- Snare Drum – In addition to the single mic typically placed on the top of the snare drum, you can also place a mic pointed towards the bottom of the drum. Then you can blend the two together for a more defined sound.
- Ride Cymbal – Adding a dedicated mic for the ride cymbal is popular in genres where the ride cymbal is used often. Adding this mic will give you more control over the level and tone of that cymbal.
Do You Need to Meet Any Specified Requirements?
If this is a simple “No” for you then you can scroll down to the next consideration. However, if this is a “Yes” for you then you definitely shouldn’t ignore it.
The most common type of requirement you will need to fulfill when deciding how many drum mics you need is from a technical rider.
In short, a tech rider is a document that an artist/band should send you that lists out every single technical request/requirement they have. If they have specified a certain number of microphones they need for the drums, then you should do your best to fulfill it; that is unless you make agreements otherwise prior to the day of the performance.
Size of Your Audience and Location of Your Venue
Another thing to consider when deciding how many drum mics you need is the size of your audience and location of your venue – these go hand-in-hand.
If your venue is inside and has a 100 person capacity, you probably don’t need to mic every single drum. In this case, volume will be hard to control anyway, especially the drums. So, a single mic on the kick drum to give you a bit of thump will probably suit you just fine.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if your venue is outside with any more than a couple hundred people, you will definitely want to mic up the entire kit to achieve a well-balanced mix.
There is an infinite amount of variations to this. So when considering your decision, take these factors into account and apply this logic in a way that makes sense in your situation.
What Mixer Is Being Used?
Sometimes our decisions aren’t based solely upon our preferences, but on the limitations something else.
In this case, what mixer will be used. Does it have enough channels to support the number of drum microphones you want AND the rest of the band?
Let’s say the mixer has 16 channels. To some, this may sound like a lot. However, if you want 8 to 10 mics for your drums, that only leaves 8 or 6 inputs for the rest of your band. This can quickly be filled with guitars, keyboards, vocals, etc… So in this case, maybe 5 or 6 mics is a good compromise.
On the other end of that spectrum, some consoles have 48, 56, 64 or even hundreds of inputs available. In a case like this, it’s not uncommon to see 12 or mics for the drums alone.
So how many inputs do you have available?
If you’re always in the same venue, this should be easy to figure out. But if you’re constantly on the move, maybe not so easy. So, if you are always on the move, it’s a good idea to be flexible and have an amount that can work in any circumstance.
What Genre of Music Is Being Performed?
In conjunction with determining how the size of your audience and location of your venue will affect your decision, knowing what genre of music is being performed can also play a role in the decision making process.
If you are in a small venue with 75 people and a rock band, chances are you won’t need to mic many of the drums, aside from maybe the kick drum.
On the other hand, if you’re in that same venue with a smooth jazz band, you’ll probably want a few mics for some of the drums – maybe the kick, snare, hi-hat and ride cymbal, for example.
Knowing what genre of music is being performed can greatly affect the decision you will make.
What Are You Using for Monitors?
What you are using for monitors plays a huge part in determining how many mics you should use. This is something that is often overlooked.
It’s easy to think you don’t need many (or any) mics because of the size of your audience and/or venue. However, if your band is using in-ear monitors, it is likely that they will need all the mics.
This is because when a band uses in-ear monitors, the amount of sound they hear directly from the stage is minimal. In this case, you will want to do a full mic setup for the drums. You may not use much (or any) of the signal from those mics in the main mix, but you will need to send it to the musicians in-ear monitors.
Again, this is an often overlooked, but is very important to remember.
Is the Performance Being Recorded?
This is another circumstance often overlooked when deciding how many mics you need for the drums.
You may decide that you don’t need many mics for the venue you’re in. But, is the performance being recorded? If so, and you want a full drum sound in your recording, then you will want to make sure that your drums are miked properly.
Not doing so can, and probably will, result in a very weird and weak sounding recording. You don’t have to use the drum signals in the main mix of your venue, but you will need to for the mix of your recording.
As you can see, there are many considerations to think about when deciding how many microphones you need for your drums. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but if you carefully consider the all the points made in this article, it should be easy for you to make the right decision!