In this article we’ll explain how you can record great sounding drum tracks even if you only have two microphones and two channels!
Don’t be put off if you haven’t got the budget for a multi-channel recording interface, a full set of dedicated drum mics and all the stands and cables. You can still get an excellent drum sound with just two microphones. I’ll show you how in this guide!
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Equipment needed for recording drums with two microphones
There are a few pieces of equipment you’ll need, so let’s start with that, then we’ll get into some mic placement techniques and strategies and basic setup. Here’s what you’ll need;
- Two channel Audio Interface
- One large diaphragm condenser microphone
- One dynamic microphone
- If you prefer the stereo mic setup, then you’ll need a pair of small diaphragm condensers for overheads instead of items 2 and 3 above.
- Two mic stands
- Two XLR Microphone cables
- Computer with multichannel recording software, or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
- Drum Kit
If you want more detail on some of these items, you can read our detailed article on the top 10 items of equipment you need to record music.
Two channel Audio Recording Interface for stereo drum recording
The first thing you’ll need is a two-channel recording interface. There’s plenty on the market – you can read my review and comparison of a few of my favorites here. The one that I’ll be talking about in this article is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It’s got two great-sounding mic preamps and it will work with just about any computer (PC and Mac) with USB.
Preparing the Drum Kit for recording (2 mic setup)
The first thing to think about, is that you want to record as accurately as possible – the sound of an acoustic instrument – in this case drums. So you want the source that you’re recording ( a drum set) to sound as good as it possibly can, before you even start thinking about hitting the record button! You don’t want to have to fight in the mixing and post-production stage with drums that never sounded good to begin with. Do yourself a favour and learn how to tune drums! There’s lots of great resources on Youtube about this. Make sure your drum heads are nearly new (if you put brand new heads on, let them settle for a day or so and then re-tune them). Make sure the drum hardware is in good condition, no squeaks or rattles in the kick pedal or high hat pedal. Check the snare throw-off is adjusted correctly so the wires aren’t buzzing or rattling. The nuts on the cymbals stands shouldn’t be too tight – you want the cymbals to vibrate freely and not sound choked. (Some inexperienced drummers don’t think about these things!)
Setting up your Room for recording drums
The next thing to think about is your room setup. To get the best sound, you can hang sheets or curtains if it feels too live. Your microphones can pick up ambient reflections from the room, so take some time to work on this.
Once you’ve got your drums set up, tuned and sounding great and the room set up with a nice tight sound, you’re now ready to set up your microphones!
The Kick and Overhead method for Recording Drums with 2 Mics
The first mic configuration we’ll look at is the ‘Kick and Overhead’ setup. This uses one microphone in the kick drum and one condenser overhead mic.
The next thing you’ll want is a couple of microphones. You can get a great sound with just one condenser overhead mic and a bass drum mic.
Recommended microphones for a 2 mic drum setup
My recommendation is the Rode NT1000 large diaphragm condenser for the overhead. It can handle a massive 140db sound pressure level (that’s a fancy way to say it can deal with loud noises without distorting). It’s got a great frequency response all the way down to 20Hz, for picking up the deeper bass frequencies from your kick drum and toms. It provides beautiful clarity in the mid-range and high frequencies for capturing the bark of your snare and the crisp definition you want to hear from your cymbals. The reason I recommend the Rode NT1000 is not just because it sounds great on drums, -it’s a really versatile microphone – it sounds amazing on vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, a loud electric guitar amp and even horns. If you had to buy just one microphone – this would be the one! Later on, you can get a second one if you want to do stereo miking!
For the bass drum, one of my favorites is the Sennheiser E602 II dynamic microphone. If you don’t want to shell out for a dedicated bass drum microphone, you can use a smaller dynamic microphone like the Audix D2, Shure Beta57 or even a SM57. (Some people may disagree with me on this one, but consider this article by Shure that talks about the maximum SPL that dynamic microphones can handle). I’m suggesting the Audix D2 or SM57 because, like the Rode NT1000, these are extremely versatile microphones to own – you can use it for vocals, guitar amps, drums and lots of other applications. If you’re just starting out, you want to invest strategically in equipment that you can use for multiple uses!
How to place Kick Drum microphone for recording
Kick drums usually have two heads/skins – the resonant head and the batter head. The batter head is where the kick pedal strikes, and the resonant head (like the name suggests), resonates and helps create some of the lower bass frequencies. Many kick drums have a small hole in the resonant head – and the kick drum mic should be mounted on a small stand, sitting inside this hole.
Try and get it at least 6 inches inside the drum, to avoid picking up too much of the air movement that will be happening right by the hole. It should be slightly offset from the centre of the resonant head, angled inside the drum towards the centre of the batter head.
If the kick drum doesn’t have a hole in the resonant head (and you or the drummer don’t want to cut one!) then you’ll get the best sound by placing the microphone on the batter head, offset from the center, pointing towards where the beater strikes. You’ll need to position it carefully so it doesn’t get in the way of the drummer’s heavy foot!
One other possible location for the bass drum microphone is a couple of feet in front of the bass drum. This position gives you a bit less punch and definition and lower frequencies from the bass drum, but it does enable you to capture more of the resonance from the bass drum and toms as well as some ambient room noise. I personally prefer the first position with the microphone placed inside the bass drum where possible. I believe you get enough ambient room noise from the overhead microphone.
Overhead microphone placement for 2 mic drum recording setup
For the single overhead, my recommended position is about 3 feet above the drum kit, centered so it picks up the toms and snare drum evenly. The cymbals will naturally be picked up. Make sure the microphone is facing down so it picks up the audio from the front (The Rode NT1000 is a cardiod mic, so it will reject audio from the rear). Make sure the mic is high enough to avoid the drummer’s flailing arms. You’ll want a pretty heavy duty stand with a long arm to get the mic placed in the right spot.
The Stereo Overhead 2 mic drum setup
Another method you can use to record drums with 2 mics is the stereo overhead method. This uses a matched pair of microphones – usually, small-diaphragm condensers placed above the drum kit. It’s important to have a matched pair of microphones (two identical mics of the same model) so you get a matched stereo image from each mic.
The placement of the two microphones over the drum kit is important. It’s particularly to get an even balance of each element of the drum kit in each mic.
You can use two main positions for the stereo mic setup – the Stereo spaced pair and the Stereo XY position. We’ll explain both of these below.
Stereo Spaced Pair Microphone Position for drum recording
Placing the two microphones separately in a wide position gives a better stereo image, but you do have to watch out for phase issues with the snare and kick drum. It’s a good idea to place the mics in a position where they pick up even amounts of the snare drum, to avoid phase issues when it comes to mixing. Problems with phase occur when the sound reaches each stereo mic at a slightly different moment in time – due to the mics being a different distance away from the microphone.
To avoid this, measure the distance from each mic to the center of the snare drum with a tape measure (or even just a mic cable). Place each overhead microphone so the distance from the snare drum is exactly the same.
Stereo XY Mic Position for drum recording
An alternative stereo overhead placement is the XY stereo configuration. This technique brings the heads of the microphones as close together as possible, reducing the possibility of phase issues. This method doesn’t have such a wide stereo image as the individual placement method, but it can avoid issues in the mixing stages.
Although the stereo overhead techniques won’t always give you as solid a kick drum sound as placing a mic directly on the kick, it can still provide a good overall rendition of the full drum kit.
Get your levels correct for recording with 2 mics
Now we’ve got the microphones placed, it’s time to set up levels for recording. Run your XLR mic cables to your recording interface. By the way, here’s a little trick that another sound engineer taught me years ago: coil up the excess microphone lead at the bottom of each microphone stand. That means you won’t have a tangle of cables by your audio interface, but the excess cable will be tidily coiled at each mic stand!
Get your drummer to play at the full intensity that they are planning to play during the actual recording. Sometimes drummers take a while to get warmed up, so I recommend that you get them to play for a few minutes and have a good ol’ fashioned jam on the kit, they’ll eventually loosen up and start hitting the drums hard.
While the drummer is having their jam, you’ll be setting the gain on your interface so that the input level on your meter sits at about -4db. If you’ve got a meter on your interface, you can use this, but it’s a good idea to check the meter in your recording software too. Make sure you set the fader in the mix window to zero db, so you’re monitoring the true input level. (Remember that the fader in your mix window isn’t controlling the input gain, this needs to be done using the gain control on your recording interface).
Time to hit record!
Alright! Now we’ve covered everything you need to do to get set up to record a full drum kit with just two microphones. In summary, we’ve covered the following details;
- The best 2-channel audio interface
- My recommendation for the best large-diaphragm condenser microphone for recording mono overheads.
- My recommendation for the best kick drum microphone to get a punchy kick drum sound
- The importance of tuning the drum kit and getting to sound as good as it can
- Microphone placement to get the best drum sound with only two microphones
- Setting your levels
Now it’s time to hit record and make your next hit song!
Want to add more microphones?
If you do want to invest a bit more into a full drum mic set, you can read a detailed review of the Shure, Audio Technica and Sennheiser drum microphone kits.
If you have the luxury of 8 inputs and you’re miking up a standard four-piece drum kit, my mic setup recommendation is: Kick, Top and bottom Snare, hihats, Tom 1, Tom 2, Left and Right Overheads – a total of 8 mics.
Of course, the sky is really the limit! If your interface supports adding additional inputs via ADAT optical, you could add another interface with 8 more microphone inputs. This means you could add a couple of room mics, a second boundary mic in the kick drum, and top and bottom mics on the toms. I believe it’s important to focus on getting the best sound you can with a simple setup. This means you’re working on your ability and techniques, getting the microphone placement correct, setting up gain staging and learning mixing techniques with a smaller number of inputs.
A couple of other advantages of fewer inputs are keeping your project files size smaller and keeping your equipment budget under control! (Every extra microphone means another mic stand and cable too!)
Frequently Asked Questions
How many mics do I need to record drums?
You can get a great drum sound with just one or two microphones. In this article, we’ve covered a number of techniques for recording drums with two microphones.
What is needed to mic a drum set?
To mic a drum set you need microphones, mic cables, mic stands, audio interface, and a recording device or computer with DAW recording software. It helps to have a great-sounding room with good acoustics too.
How can I make my MIDI drums sound real?
If you’re working with MIDI drums, there are a number of techniques you can use to make them sound more like a real drummer played them. Read the article on how to make MIDI drums sound more realistic