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Mic Positioning: Toms and Room

Mic Positioning: Toms and Room

Note: when placing drum mics, it’s important to remember that sticks and hands and cymbals will be falling very hard near them, so make sure your mics aren’t in the way of the player or a rogue ride cymbal. This article breaks down mic placement to the individual drum pieces. Remember, these are just guidelines; always defer to the judgment of your ears. When recording drums, try to get your hands on the best sounding kit you can for your style of music. Get new heads and pay attention to the tuning. If it doesn’t sound good from the get go, it’s not going to sound good at the end. 


Toms often help determine the sound of a record.  If they are big, the record results in a big sound; this can also be problematic if the toms take up too much room and make it difficult to fit them into the track among the other instruments.  Similar to other drums, the toms need to sound great on their own acoustically before microphones are placed.  This will result in a better sound.  The standard microphone used on toms is the Sennheiser MD421, but you are not limited to using only this mic.

Some points to consider:

  • By using a condenser mic, you will receive more attack and less thumping than you would with a dynamic.
  • If you are miking multiple toms, try to point the microphones in the same direction so as to avoid any possible phase issues.
  • Miking a tom with one microphone is preferable as it has more clarity than miking with two mics, having one on the bottom. If using a top and bottom mic, make sure to check polarity.
  • Both heads on the drum can usually be tuned to produce a more powerful and large sound than if you were to tune one head alone.
  • While you may want a big powerful tom sound, it shouldn’t compete with the kick drum’s frequency range.  Try rolling off around 60 or 80Hz to keep them out of the kick’s frequency range but still maintain their resonance.

The techniques:
Classic Method: Place the mic 2 or 3 inches over the head and above the rim, positioned at a 45 degree angle and aimed at the center of the head.  This will get the most attack.  For less attack and more ring, try pointing the mic closer to the rim. Try placing the mic underneath the ride cymbal, approximately 3 inches above the rim but still pointed at the center of the head.  This positioning is designed to increase the sound rejection of the rest of the kit.

If you’re tracking in a great-sounding room, or if you want to add some depth to the overall drum sound, set up a few room mics.  They give an overall feel of the kit and help to add an authentic sound and space for the listener.

Some points to consider:

  • Use large diaphragm condensers, though any mic will do.
  • Play with compression as an effect — a dirty, nasty, overly compressed room mic sound might be just the thing to add a little flavor to the drum sound.
  • There is no real definitive right or wrong with room mics, experiment and play around, listen to the room, and look for a miking technique that best complements the sound you are trying to achieve.

The techniques:
Place a mono mic in front of the kit, about 6 to 12 feet away.  To emphasize one part of the kit or another, raise and lower the mic accordingly.  Use your ear to taste. Place two mics in an XY, mid-side, or Blumlein pattern, far from the kit. Place two or more mics around the room as spaced pairs. Use any combination of the above techniques, listen for the sound you want, and experiment accordingly.

One last tip, invest in either gaffers tape (a little difficult to find) or moon gels (much easier to find).  Gaff tape is more cloth-like than duct tape and therefore produces a more pleasing sound when used to deaden drums, and many prefer it to moon gels.  Either way, have something available to deaden a drum if it’s producing an annoying ring.