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How To Record Drum Sessions At Home With Overhead Mics And Headphones

Playing musical instruments offers a plethora of physical and emotional benefits. When choosing which musical instrument to play, numerous factors are taken into account and when you’ve finally chosen one, it’s time for the best part – playing and recording the instrument. If you’re playing with full drum kits, it’s a big challenge to play and record with them successfully, especially if you’re still a novice drummer.

Choosing the right recording equipment is paramount to your recording success. There are different types of recording equipment to choose from, but the beginner-friendly ones would definitely be the overhead drum mics and headphones

What Are Overhead Microphones?

As their name suggests, overhead recording microphones are equipment used in live sound reproduction and sound recording which are placed over the player’s head, hence “overhead”. When recording your drumming session, you can use a variety of recording instruments, and results usually depend on which instrument you’ll pair up with them. Overhead microphones are great in picking up transient and ambient sounds, as well as the overall sound blend of the drum kit.

Recording Drum Sessions At Your Home Using Overhead Mics And Headphones

At the outset, take note that there are several approaches and methods to record your playing. However, sound engineering paved the way for developing microphone recording techniques that are tested and proven to work, and they’ll be discussed here. As you step up your drumming experience, you’ll definitely find new methods to do this, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Moving on now, here are some ways for how you can record with overhead recording equipment, even in the comfort of your own home:

Set Up The Drum Set

In every music recording, the quality of the instruments and how they are set up will greatly affect the sound quality. If your drum set is poorly arranged and untuned, you will not succeed in recording the sounds well, despite microphone placement techniques being applied.

Your drum kit should be of top-notch quality and in good condition before playing. If you haven’t found the right drum kit yet, reading reviews and recommendations from certified fellow musicians will help. Furthermore, you, the drummer, should also be in top form.

Then, set up the drum kit like you normally would during playing sessions. Choose the configuration that makes you comfortable while playing. However, the drum heads and sticks are pretty specific since you need to produce a better sound quality.

The drum heads that you’ll use should be new or not too worn out. Always prepare spare heads during recording sessions because the skins perform less after being used repeatedly. Coated heads are preferable since they have a warmer tone and better ‘skin’ attack. 

Also, choose double-ply heads over single-ply ones because they have reduced overtones, higher attack, shorter sustain, and most importantly, are more durable. Although it can be a personal preference, two-ply heads can perform better specifically if they come with a ring on the outer edge for controlling overtones.

When choosing where to place your drum kit in the room, make sure the area is spacious enough to move around in and convenient to use other playing and recording equipment. Ensure that the overhead microphones will have their own, ample space.

Prep The Room Acoustics

Once you’re done with setting up the drum set and satisfied with how your instrument sounds, it’s time to prep your surroundings, which is another huge factor that affects your recording performance. In tuning your drum room, the two essential things to do are: 

  • Embrace your surroundings’ natural acoustic conditions and use them to your advantage. Of course, there are ideal qualities that a drum room should have and if these qualities are present, then the sound quality of your recording is in your favor. Nevertheless, if you’re in a small room not meant for playing instruments, it doesn’t mean that you won’t play well. 
  • Manipulate the room’s acoustics and utilize synthetic flavors after recording. If your room acoustics aren’t compatible with your recording, you can still make necessary adjustments. You can alter them physically, like using room soundproofing kits designed for playing instruments or use software plugins on your raw sound.

Preparing and controlling your room acoustics can contribute a lot to the overall recording quality, since you can’t just rely on your skills and instruments. Since players can have different rooms that they use to play, don’t limit yourself to these examples and be creative when controlling your room acoustics.

Place Mic In Relation To The Drum Kit

For the most important part of recording, utilize the most suitable technique for your mic placements in order to harvest the best sounds from your drum performance. Always treat the whole drum kit as a single, united entity despite the separate purposes of its components, and use microphones as minimally as possible. 

The overhead microphones are best to start with, as they give the best representation of your overall drum kit, with well-balanced elements. Sound engineers also suggest using diaphragm condenser microphones for wider sensitivity and dynamic range.

Another aspect to consider in placing your overhead microphones properly is understanding that cymbals resonate both above and below. On the other hand, hi-hats vibrate sounds horizontally. Ideally, think of a way you can place the overhead mic that allows the drum and cymbals to attain balance, which are usually 2 to 3 meters above ground level. To be more specific, there are two overhead configurations to try:

  • A/B: The more common technique is called the A/B technique, involving 2 mics on the left and right of the kick. This configuration helps in picking up more of the room acoustics with extensive stereo image. 
  • X/Y: In contrast, an X/Y formation positions 2 mics at right angles where the capsules are aligned vertically. While there are less phasing issues in X/Y configuration because the capsules are closer, you’ll have less control in the sound image and balance of individual elements. 

When placing the overhead mics together, remember to experiment with what works better for you because there are other external factors that affect the sound production and recording response. 

The ideal placement of overhead microphones, obviously, is directly above the kit because it concentrates on resonating the cymbals. With X/Y technique, the best approach is to place the mics right above the snare, pointing left and right. On the other hand, A/B is difficult to phase, but you can try flipping the phase inversion switch in one channel and experiment accordingly. 

If you’re satisfied with the balance of sounds according to your overhead mic placements, you can start supplementing spot microphones for emphasizing parts of your drum kit depending on what you play. Some examples of these parts are the snare drum for additional sound support, as well as the kick drum to add more weight. 

Conclusion

Finally, you are ready for recording. Always listen to the recording once you finish a session to identify any problems with the sound so you can adjust it. Always remember that the key to a beautiful recording with overhead mics and headphones is to follow your own path and not be too technical. These recording steps, along with some recording tips, can serve as a useful guide, but feel free to go your own way. 


About the Author: Vilma Adams is a musician who teaches people how to play musical instruments. When Vilma is not busy, she writes music-related articles online to convince more people to become musically inclined.

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