One Microphone = Artistic Sound?

live recording in studiolive recording in studiosingle microphone drum soundI really dig this sound if your in the mood for a artsy single microphone drum sound. Some would just pass this technique off as a lo-fi sound that isn’t to be taken seriously, but I’d like to vouch that this is so much more than that. This single microphone drum sound is a really colored and artistic take on drum tones.

If you were an artist who drew graphite drawings, would it matter if it looked like it was a drawing? Or do you think that drawings should look photo-realistic? With this method of recording, we are taking things away from the “real to life” mentality, and artistically adding in our own interpretation of what the drums “sound like”.

 

single mic drum soundCorrections on the Video

  • At 22:34 I commented that the RE20 in “Violent Red” was being shielded from the guitar cabinet form the top tom. In the Session video you can see that there is no top tom. -Oops!
  • I had mentioned that in “Violent Red” the vocal was recorded with a R88. It was really a Beyerdynamic M88.

Positioning is Key in a Single Microphone Drum Sound

When you only have a single microphone for your drum sound, the placement of this microphone is really important. You’ll need to listen to how the microphone is collecting the sound and how it will react to compression, EQ and how well it will blend with other tracks your planing to add.

In the video you can hear each of the three positions. They each have unique qualities but none of them are terrible. In fact, one engineer may prefer the “at the hoop” position (the 3rd position we listened to), but others would insist that another one was better.

Personally, I’ve always been surprised at how much attack of the kick drum seams to get lost in the mix…I’m always wanting more. As a drummer, having a lot of attack doesn’t always sound natural and if I were to solo the kick drum I would always think “that’s way too much attack…I gotta EQ some of that out”. However, when I blending the drums in with the rest of the track, that attack seamed to always blend in and aid in the audibility of the kick drum.

This experience is my reason for choosing the “at the badge” or “at the lug” position. (Side note: It sucks though, because “at the hoop” is almost my favorite when soloed, but I know that if there is lots of other tracks in the mix it won’t hold up like the others do.)

Listen to the Sound of Whole Kit

Hi Hat

It’s not just a matter of the kick and snare drum, but you’re capturing the whole drum kit with this technique. One difference is that the hi hats will be super quiet, which, for a first time is a problem. Most of the time in a recording session, the engineer has to beg the drummer “please don’t slam your hi hats”. They are always loud, and I have a collection of thin hi hats at my own studio just for this reason. My thick hi hats are only for live playing, and with this technique, they would also work well.

single microphone drum sound ride

Ride Cymbal

You’ll notice that the tonalities of the ride cymbal (often positioned right above where our mono microphone would go) will change as you move the microphone around. You may want to try laying a blanket over the bass drum if you find the tonalities of the ride to be too weird. There’s a lot of sound coming off the bottom of the cymbal at a slight angle (cymbals have a null at 90 degrees) so the sound will be radiating downward and out. This makes sense why our 3rd example, “at the hoop” had the strangest sound in the ride cymbal. It was the most forward of any position, and it was starting to come into the path of the sound radiation down from that cymbal. The sound bouncing around from the shiny surface of the kick drum added some phasing of this sound as well. In the video, the ride cymbal has a whistle like tone (while at the “hoop” position).

Toms

The toms are hit and miss. You will find that you’ll get a lot of the first tom, but the floor tom is not as loud. I’ve tried moving the microphone down the shell and closer to the floor tom, but eventually because of the curvature of the bass drum, you will loose sight of the snare drum. In the examples in the video, you can hear that the hi tom has a nice attack to it, but the low tom is in the distance.

single microphone drum soundThe “Cons”

So with this, I’d put the weakness of our single microphone drum sound to be the floor tom and hi hat. Next would be a very loud ride cymbal, but this can be easily cured (if your on good terms with the drummer) by moving the ride cymbal up a a few inches. The drummer will want to angle the cymbal to accommodate the raise in height, and this will shoot more cymbal sound downward. You’ll just have to play it by ear.

A Single Microphone Drum Sound is Great for Tone Shaping

With a conventional method of recording drums, engineers will often use certain parts of each microphone to make a complete picture. So they may use an RE20 for the high end of the kick drum, but pair it with a Yamaha Sub Kick. This leaves the engineer with the task of combining all the microphones and they are on the spot to make sure they are in phase. It’s really hard to correct for phase during the mixing process.

In the single microphone drum sound, you have what the microphone gives you. It’s completely in tact. This means that it can take a lot of abuse in a compressor or EQ, and it’ll also translate better to the outside world.

Phasing is really noticed when you can compare one sound to another, but with a single microphone, there’s nothing to compare it to…and there won’t be. So you can really jack up the EQ and the phasing that it introduces is much more forgiving.

Sure, maybe you disagree with me, but keep in mind that I’m usually the guy who says, “Don’t mess with my tone, put that EQ away”. In the video I used what I call “aggressive compression and EQ” which I’m sure to some, isn’t very aggressive at all. My point still rings true: Sounds captured with one microphone can take more abuse and stay more intact.

ryan

Hello, my name is Ryan Earnhardt. I am a personal mentor to audio engineers, and a debt free studio owner, Lumen Audio, located in the mountains around Asheville NC.

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