I took the opportunity of the extended weekend over Easter to get stuck into some recording with my band. Drum recording always comes first when we’re laying down a track and, while it’s technically one of the most fun things to do, it’s also the bane of my life from the perspective of how long it takes.
So this time, I wanted to try something new – the 4-microphone technique developed by Glyn Johns which promises a natural sound and fantastic stereo imaging. Legendary producer Glyn started his career assisting for The Beatles before going on to record Led Zeppelin, The Who, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and more. Well, with a CV like that, I’d be stupid not to try it!
Normally, I record drums in what has become a conventional close-mic fashion – with individual dynamic mics on kick, snare, hat and all four toms, and then an XY overhead pair of condensers. The trouble with close-mic techniques is that you have to be very careful about phase problems and there’s a lot of gating and EQing to do to get back to the natural sound of the kit. The Glyn Johns technique relies more heavily on the sound of the overheads to provide the sound of the full kit, with spot mics on the kick drum and snare simply to reinforce and add some low-end body to those two drums.
Two overhead mics, preferably not ones that are too bright (I used a pair of Rode NT5 studio condenser mics), a good quality kick drum mic such as an AKG D112 cardioid dynamic mic, a snare drum mic (over the years I’ve come to rely on a Shure SM57 for this) and a tape measure. This last one is vital.
How to do it…
Position one overhead to the drummer’s left hand side, behind the hi-hat. Using the tape measure, measure from the centre of the snare drum to the diaphragm of the mic (about 40″ is ideal, but give or take a few inches if it makes for better positioning), then point the mic directly towards where the kick drum pedal is. Now, position your second overhead mic to the right of the drummer, out behind the floor toms. Point this mic directly at the hi-hat, and use the tape measure to ensure that the distance from the centre of the snare to the diaphragm is exactly the same as for your other mic. This is critical to ensure the snare is perfectly in phase between both mics; being out of phase here will give you a slightly washy sound.
Next, position the kick drum mic inside the bass drum, starting at halfway towards the batter head, then move it forwards or back depending on whether you want more click or more thump. The snare drum mic points at the centre of the drum and it can be faced away from the hi-hat to cut the bleed from the hats, or towards it if you want a bit more. And that’s it!
Panning is what makes this technique work really well. The mic to the drummer’s right – the one that sits behinds the toms – is panned hard left. The other one, that sits just over the snare, is panned right, but only half way. As if by magic (assuming you’ve measured accurately!), you get this wonderful balanced stereo image. With so much reliance on room mics, obviously the effect of the room becomes much more apparent, as does the sound of the kit itself. But as long as you’ve got a decent room, a properly tuned kit with new heads and a good drummer, you’ll get great results.
I will admit that I second-guessed myself doing this, and as a safety net I also close-miced the toms and added a hi-hat mic. I needn’t have bothered – the results from just the four mics were pretty astonishing and I’ll definitely be using this technique next time!
For more information on what you’ll need to achieve the Glyn Johns technique, call us on 03332 409 306 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. If you use it yourself, we’d love to hear how you get on, so leave us a comment below.