Overheads are Not Just for Recording Cymbals

When I started this series on recording drums, I wanted to cover everything. I realized that I hadn’t gone deep enough with some concepts, and I wanted to give my viewers content they could really chew on. This series is going to really go deep with some of the concepts of recording drums, and also cover things that sound elementary. However all topics are part of the process to achieve great drum sounds.

Overheads are the foundation for any drum sound. There are exceptions where producers are having drums play without hitting cymbals (that’s crazy), but this episode is assuming that the kit is being performed as it usually is by a regular rock drummer with all the normal drums and cymbals that you would expect. (There has been a surge of music that doesn’t have a complete drum kit but rather low toms, and percussion type tracks. )

You Start the Mixing Process Now

It may sound like a stretch to say, but I believe that you start mixing as you are tracking. The two processes are really one. Decisions that you make now will effect how you can mix later, and it’s better that you fix it at the mic, rather than fix it in the mix. Furthermore, EQ and other corrective techniques will alter your signal in ways that degrade it. There is no free lunch here, and everytime you treat a signal with aggressive band EQ you are going to have side effects. This is part of what makes mixes hard to sound good in your car after you have spend so long mixing it in your studio. The more you mess with your raw sounds, the less they want translate to the real world. I have done really rough mixes for clients where I did not have time to EQ and mostly stuck to compression, and the mixes sounded remarkably close to how they sounded in my studio. Remember, fix it at the mic.

Step One: Divide the Drums

So our mixing process starts now, and we have to decide how to divide up the drums. We can always bump the left channel up in volume if our snare is placed a little right to make it centered better, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. The idea is to split the drum kit so that multiple elements are fairly centered. This may look funny, but it really does work.

The hi hat and ride cymbal are actually pretty close to center using this method, while the kick and snare are right down the middle.

The example in the video is slight, but these are the differences that really matter when you go to mix. If your not in a good listening enviorenment then use a pair of headphones. Really listen how it seems to be more cohesive when you split the kit from the side so that the kick and snare are centered.

Step Two: Decide on the Height

Just as adding EQ will alter the sound and cause unwanted side effects, so will adding additional microphones. Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t set up room microphones. Seriously, who doesn’t love room microphones when recording drums. But if you are short on channels, or shot on microphones you do have options. You can raise the height of the microphone so that it captures a little of your room sound, of which will be further brought out with compression (Such as the UAD plug in LA-3A, and 1176, or other compressors with fast release times of 30 ms or less). \

The height of your drum overhead microphones also determine the stereo wideness of the drum kit. It’s like sitting in a movie theater in the front row where you have to turn your head to look across the whole screen. The closer you are the wider it gets. This also has the added benefit of a super real sound from your drums that you will not get with your close microphones. This is in part because your overheads are typically a microphone that is pretty fast for transients, meaning that drum sounds are sharper because the microphones are able to react quicker. These mics, being your ribbons and condensers, are able to give a super real sound without being colored by proximity effect. When you have your overheads low, you get a really nice option to rely more on your overheads for drum tones rather than just seeing them as a wash of cymbals.

Step Three: Choose the Technique

There are many different ways to record in stereo, and even the method featured in the case study (McTear Method) at the end of this series is being changed by Brian McTear every time I see him mic up a drum kit. So these technique are evolving and have some flow to them. They are simply a guide, but you need to know that there is some science involved that give them a long standing reputation.

The four schools of thought for stereo recording:

  • Coincident (XY, Blumlein)
  • Near Coincident (ORTF, NOS, RAI)
  • Spaced Pair (A-B Spaced, tons of others)
  • Asymmetric Pair (Glyn Johns, Recorderman, Weathervane Method)

Each of these have a unique flare and use in a modern studio or home studio. Check out the downloadable PDF for the details on how to set each of these up.

What Technique do I use?

I use the Blumlein Technique at the height of 6 feet from the floor. The mic I use is a AEA R88 and I point the AEA logo right at the snare, but angle in the mic stand so that it is coming over the kick drum. I also can lower the mic and try to get it a little closer to the floor tom so that both toms are equal in volume, but the mic is still pointed directly at the snare and kick.


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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