How to Record Drums like a Pro: Tips and Tricks from Industry Experts

In today’s post, I will show you exactly how to record drums.

In fact:

For some of these methods,  you need only one tool and all of them can be done at home.

Let’s dive right in.

Pre-production for recording drums in 5 steps

I know you are eager to finish the recording as soon as possible. However, there are some steps you don’t want to miss.

Take 4th step as an example. If you miss checking the levels, you might end up with a too-quiet track, or if you turn the gain too much, the whole recording is ruined.

You don’t want that to happen.

So let’s follow this simple step-by-step process and ensure you are ready for drum recording.

Step 1. Preparing the room

The room needs to have an “acoustic treatment” before you start to record.

What’s an acoustic treatment?

Concrete walls may cause reflections and resonances; you must add acoustic panels, curtains, blankets, or anything that will dampen the sound.

It doesn’t have to be a professional studio equipment. 

By reducing undesired overtones you’ll get a quality track easier to mix.

What if I skip this step?

Well, you will lose more time mixing and might not get a quality recording after all.

Step 2. Preparing the drum kit

Obviously, you need to set up a drum kit, so I will not bother you with this. There is something you want to consider, however.

#1 The sound you want to get 

Your setup for jazz, rock, or pop needs to be diverse. 

It’s not like we all have 10 different snare drums and a bunch of cymbals.

Be imaginative,  improvise. 

The simple trick of putting a piece of paper or a towel on the snare drum will completely change the sound of it.

Changing the drum heads is also an option for getting a different sound out of the same drum kit.

#2 The drum tunning

The drum tunning must also be adapted, depending on the genre you are recording. Go with a higher tunning for jazz and a lower tunning for rock.

Sometimes this does not work with low-end drum series. 

Expensive drums can stand different tunings, while cheaper ones usually operate in a specific range.

Step 3. Placing the microphones

Mic position can drastically change the sound of the recording. For instance, if you put the bass drum mic more towards the inside, you will get more attack.

Generally, tom and snare mics aim to the center of the piece, while the most experimenting happens with bass drum and overheads. I will go in-depth later in the article.

Experiment with position to avoid picking up different components also. Snare drum mic should pick up less hi-hat, bass drum mic should pick up fewer toms, etc.

Step 4. Checking the levels

Alright, now that everything is miked up, it’s time to check the levels to make sure they are not either too low or at the peak. Both can ruin the recording.

The rule of thumb is to go for the gain level little under -6dB at your most robust hit.

Remember, the gain is your input signal, and when that signal is good, you can turn up the volume knob a lot.

You can use a limiter to ensure your levels are not passing a specific limit when recording drums through a laptop/computer.

Step 5. Recording the test track

Don’t just start recording to discover something is off with your track at the very end.

Take a few minutes to do a test recording and ensure that:

  • the levels are as loudest possible without peaking 
  • mic placement is right
  • equipment batteries are full
  • sound is clear and at the solid volume 

How to record drums?

There are several ways to capture the sound of an acoustic drum kit

In this chapter I will cover recording methods with different equipment and different number of mics.

You can record drums with a drum module, mixer, sound recorder, sound card + laptop, and here is here are the setups:

  • A drum module only
  • Sound recorder (one mic setup)
  • Two Mic setup
  • Three mic setup
  • Four+ mics setup
record drums with a drum module

Recording drums with a drum module 

This is a popular method nowadays. 

Recording drums with a drum module such as Yamaha EAD10 can make things easier while providing a great-sounding drum kit on the spot.

Yamaha EAD10 is triggering your bass drum and simultaneously miking up the entire kit. 

It’s a giant save in time and equipment.

The process is straightforward:

  • get a module and a trigger/mic. 
  • attach trigger/mic to the bass drum
  • connect it to a module
  • connect the module to the power supply, and that’s it.

What about the sound?

It’s not something that’s used in the studio, but it’s perfect for everyday recordings. Drummers like El Estepario Siberiano use it all the time. 

Check out the full review.

record drums with one mic

Recording drums with drum recorder (one mic approach)

Recorders such as Zoom H6 are trendy options nowadays. They cost around $400, but you can find used on eBay or go with some less expensive model.

Such a recorder comes with a multichannel recording, so you would use its internal mics as overhead and use additional inputs for bass, snare, toms, etc.

We will discuss multichannel recording later; let’s stick to recording drums with one mic.

This approach is even more straightforward than using a drum module, but to be honest, it’s hard to get a great sound with only one mic.

Although this is great for recording an exercise r your general progress, I don’t recommend one mic approach in genuine.

However, if you decide to go with it, try a few different placements:

  • Above the drum set
  • In front of the drum set
  • Between yourself and a floor tom

Recording drums with 2 mics

Although the first approach that provides any serious results is a 3-mic recording, recording drums with 2 mics can be a good option if done correctly.

You have several setup options:

  • recorder + one mic
  • recorder with two external mics
  • mixer with two mics
  •  audio card with a laptop + two mics 
Regarding setup I suggest two:
  • Miking the bass drum + overhead
  • Two overheads
Here is how to do it:
how to record drums with two mics

Bass drum and overhead setup

Place this mic above the drum kit and use the other to mic up the bass drum. The kick drum mic should be placed just outside the resonant head, or if your bass drum has a hole, push it halfway. 

Overhead mics should be positioned above the kit, pointing downwards towards the cymbals and the rest of the drums. Switch the overhead mic position until you don’t get desirable results.

record drums with two mics

2 overheads setup

Another approach is with two overheads, this way you lose the ability to control the bass drum and a lot of lower end in the track.

The image shows only one way to place the overheads but I will talk more about different methods in how to record cymbals section.

record drums with three mics

Recording drums with 3 mics

This is the minimal number of mics they would use in the studio. 

Have you heard about the famous Glyn John’s method? It’s an approach of miking drums with only three mics. 

  • One mic on the bass drum
  • One mic above floor tom or more aside
  • One mic above the drum set

This approach will capture a bass drum and allow endless possibilities in mixing. 

If you place two other mics correctly, they will capture just the right sound and atmosphere. 

If you have done everything good so far, with a little bit of EQ, you should get great-sounding drums.

record drums professionally

Recording drums with 4+ mics

Multiple mic setups cover everything, from essential components such as the snare and bass drum to room mics.

Usually, with more mics, you get more freedom in adjusting the sound but also you’ll have to use more equipment.

Recorders like Zoom H6 support up to 4 external and 1 internal mic, but for anything more, you are going to need an external sound card or a mixer.

Professional setup implies miking every component with one mic, but engineers put a second mic on toms and snare drum to have more control while mixing.

The bass drum can be miked with several mics. Here is a 3-mic setup for bass drum:

The boundary mic goes inside, a dynamic mic on the hole, and another dynamic or condenser in front of the bass drum.

Most of the time bass drum is miked with only one (usually) dynamic mic.

Overheads can be placed in various methods, but the most common are:

  • Spaced Pair method
  • XY Method
  • ORTF pair method
  • Blumlein Pair method

Additionally, sound engineers like putting in 2-3 room mics to get a bigger sound and capture the atmosphere.

record drums with drum triggers

Recording drums with triggers

The approach is basically turning acoustic drum kit into electronic drum kit by triggers picking up the signal and you assign sounds.

Regarding other components, the process is straightforward. You attach triggers that are connected to a mixer or a sound card. 

Triggers are used only to pick up the signal, but the sound you want needs to be added through a sound module or DAW.

Recording drums with triggers certainly has its limitations:

  1. You are not capturing the natural sound of drums (which can be a good thing if you have a crapy drum set)
  2. You might lose some ghost notes along the way (this is because you must adjust a level where the signal translates into the tone you set. If this level is too low, triggers may pick up all sorts of things and cause interruptions. On the other hand, if the level is too high, you’ll get a steady sound but without ghost notes)

How to record a bass drum

It would be best to have only one mic and a resonant head without a hole to get a more jazzy feel. Then, you can move the mic around to find the best position.

Things are different for other genres where you need to capture both low-end and punch.

Here are some steps you can follow in recording a bass drum:

  1. Choose the right microphone: A dynamic microphone with a cardioid polar pattern is commonly used to record a bass drum. Industry standards include the Shure Beta 52, AKG D112, and Audix D6.
  2. Position the microphone: Place the microphone inside the bass drum, approximately 2-4 inches from the resonant head. To get more attack, push it slightly towards the drum’s center.
  3. 2-mic setup: If you want to capture more of the low-end resonance of the drum, consider placing a second microphone outside the drum, facing the resonant head. This microphone can be a large-diaphragm condenser or a dynamic microphone.
  4. 3-mic setup: This setup includes one additional boundary mic like Shure Beta 91A, Beyerdynamic TG D71, or Sennheiser MEB 114 B. Boundary mics are designed to be placed at the bottom of the bass drum to provide a more full-bodied sound with a greater sense of space. When used in conjunction with a close mic on the bass drum, a boundary microphone can add depth and dimension to the overall drum sound, providing a more complete representation of the instrument.

How to record a snare drum

Recording a snare drum is essential to capturing a great drum sound. Here are some steps you can follow to get the most out of it:

  1. Snare drums are usually recorded with a dynamic microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. Popular choices include the Shure SM57, Sennheiser e604, and Audix i5.
  2. Position the microphone: Put the microphone about 1-2 inches above the rim of the snare drum and aim it toward the center of the drum. You can experiment with moving the microphone closer or further away from the snare drum to find the best sound.
  3. 2-mic setup: If you want to capture more of the snares (wires) and get a full range of a snare drum, consider placing a second mic underneath the resonant head.

How to record toms

Recording toms can be trickier than recording a snare or bass drum because there is a lot more ringing that is sometimes hard to handle in the mix. My advice is to dampen the lower heads and avoid undesirable overtones.

  1. Dynamic microphones are usually used for recording toms live, while sometimes, in the studio, engineers like to use condensers also. Most popular are: AKG C414 XLII, Sennheiser E604, Sennheiser MD 421-II, Audix D2 and D4.
  2. Position the microphones: Place each microphone about 1-2 inches above the tom’s rim, and aim it toward the drum’s center. For less attack, aim them more towards the rim.
  3. 2-mic tom setup: Attach the second mic on the resonant head; this way, you’ll get a bigger sound out of toms and gain more control while mixing.

How to record cymbals

There are various methods for overhead microphones placing when recording drums.

Here are the most popular ones:

  1. Spaced Pair: Place two microphones (cardioid or condenser mics) above the drum kit at a distance from each other. This way, you will capture a wide stereo image of the kit.
  2. X-Y Pair: Place two mics (cardioid or condenser mics) in a coincident pair above the kit. Line the mic capsules at a 90-degree angle. This technique captures a mono or narrow stereo image of the kit.
  3. ORTF Pair: Place two mics (cardioid or condenser mics) above the kit. This technique is designed to capture a wider stereo image than the X-Y pair but not as wide as spaced pair.
  4. Blumlein Pair: Place two bi-directional microphones in a coincident pair above the kit. Aligned them at a 90-degree angle. This technique captures a wide stereo image of the kit and has a natural sound.

Editing Drums

Ok, you finished the recording, and now it’s time to start “boring” work on your track.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Adjust the timing and groove to match the tempo of the song. Don’t exaggerate so you can still achieve a natural feel but go ahead, cut, and move notes to make them tighter and more precise. This process is known as quantization.
  • Cleaning up the recordings by removing unwanted background noise, clicks, pops, and other imperfections from the drum tracks using noise reduction or gate. You can mute toms whenever you don’t play them to achieve a cleaner sound.

Mixing Drums

Mixing drums is an essential part of drum production. Here are some general steps to follow when mixing drums:

Step 1: Group the drum tracks into a single bus or channel strip so that you can process them together and maintain a consistent level.

Step 2: Balance the levels within the group to be balanced and sit well together in the mix. 

Step 3: If you don’t have the best-sounding drum set or haven’t been able to get desirable results, now it’s time to use one of the plugins in DAW to replace, let’s say, snare. Producers sometimes like to use two snare ad bass drums. One original and second sampled.

Step 4: Add EQ and compression to balance the drums’ frequency response and dynamic range. Again, if you have done everything properly so far, you should have very little work. 

Step 5: Adjust the volume level and stereo positioning, meaning pan drums to different positions for a wider stereo image.

Step 7: Add effects like reverb, delay, distortion, or whatever you want, but only if needed to enhance the song.

Mastering drums

It’s time for you to add the final touches to the drum mix and truly polish the sound, so it sounds well across different playback systems. 

Here are some steps in mastering drums:

Step 1: Adjusting levels: Balance the levels of individual drum tracks to achieve a cohesive and consistent mix.

Step 2: EQ: Apply EQ to a complete mix, not single elements. For example, boost the low end of the whole track.

Step 3: Compression: Apply compression to the drum mix to boost the overall sound. This can be done with a stereo bus compressor.

Step 4: Stereo image: Adjust the stereo image of the drums to ensure that they are well-positioned in the stereo field and not clashing with other elements in the mix. Snare and bass usually reach the middle, while cymbals and toms are arranged from left to right.

Step 5: Limiting: Applying a limiter to the drum mix increases the loudness and prevents clipping or distortion.

Step 6: Listen: Listen to your track on a few different sound devices, such as a phone, computer, or in your car. Make sure the sound is good, even on bad-sounding devices.

Wrap up

We reach the end of my guide on how to record drums. 

Whether a beginner or a pro drummer, these methods will help you achieve a great drum sound. 

Sometimes it’s more about the techniques than to equipment.

If your preparations is proper, by preparation, I mean preparing the room, setting up the drum kit, placing the microphones, and checking the levels before hitting the record button, you should have very little work in the post-production.

So what are you waiting for? 

Grab your drumsticks and start recording!

Denis Loncaric

Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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