Getting That Sound

NC68

Senior Member
My acoustic kit sounds pretty good but the main complaint is with my ride and floor toms, (13" and 16"), especially when they are mic'ed. When hitting the drum by itself (without any mic'ing),I hear some attack, a fairly good round tone and resonance like, well like a tom should pretty much sound. However, when the toms are mic'ed it seems that all of the "bad" things about the sound are brought out. For example, the attack seems more pronounced which I could probably live with but the resonance seems to get picked up much more and the net effect is that toms seem kind of muddy.

Different mic positions were tried and the EQ was fiddled with but they just don't sound that great, (they sound better un-mic'ed but that's not going to work for anything but smaller venues). I really like the sound of Mike Johnston's toms on his kit that can be heard in his videos, (for example here). Mike's toms sound fat and punchy with a quick decay in resonance.

Any thought's? Is Mike using compression or something?
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I think there's something wrong with either your engineering skills, or the sound man's engineering skills. If the drum sounds great by itself, the sound man's job is basically to translate that sound through the system so it sounds louder.

Obviously, in an ideal world, this would be the ideal, but go with me here.

Also, compression and limiting are good dynamic effects, but they aren't the end all to a great sound. Just because you don't have a compressor does not mean you can't make it sound great with what you have (which I don't know what you have). All a compressor really allows you to do is play as loud as you can without peaking through the system (hence the name - it compresses your audio signal and evens out your dynamic range, which means if you play to soft, the sound won't even get to the console. If you play too loud, it compresses the signal so your signal from that mic doesn't overdrive the console electronics. If it's used too much, it sound unnatural and fake, like somebody's breathing.

Run your mixing console eq flat. And then take the time to put the mic in different positions. I'm willing to bet money that whoever is miking your kit hasn't done this. A good soundman will experiment and get your sound out there the way it is. If that means the mic has to be at a 45-degree angle to the tom rims, then that's what that means. But you have to take the time to find out. Work a little harder at it and see what you come up with before declaring your kit unfit to be mic'd ;)
 

NC68

Senior Member
Bo Eder - thank you for the sound advice, (no pun intended). And yes, there is something wrong with my engineering skills as its not my forte by any means. I think part of the problem is that there is sometimes limited time to get things set up so experimentation for mic position is limited. Also, thank you for providing a better understanding on compression, (my very limited sound engineering again).

BTW - they usually use Shure SM57's on the toms and I'm not sure what kind of effects or board. I'll spend some more time with them to gain a better understanding on what and how they are doing what they do.

I do have to say that the very punchy sound that Mike Johnston gets can't be all due to mic placement or can it? Or maybe he has his drums muffled or tuned just on the edge of the sweet spot to cut the resonance? Regardless, I'll press onward. Thanks again for providing your feedback.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
You know, I've used big digital mixing consoles (like a Yamaha M7) that have most everything you need built-in, on down to what I currently have in my home, a little Mackie 1604VLZ, and I use a combination of Shure SM57s and 58s, and although the gear does matter, it doesn't matter that much. Knowing where to put the mic and where a drums' frequency naturally falls is just experience. Think of this as the same as buying lenses for a camera - you can have nice stuff or mediocre stuff, but if you don't know where to put the lens for the best shot, it won't matter, right? It's particularly sweet when you have mediocre stuff and get it in the right place for that award-winning shot!

To be honest, I have more fun with the simpler system, not that I don't like total control, though. Getting expensive gear means getting better sonic results (like when you give a kid a pro trumpet to learn on as opposed to a cheap student horn where he's fighting it to get a note out), but you do have to learn how to get the notes out to begin with. There's a fine line between allowing the kid to play freely, and making it so hard he gives up because whatever he does the horn won't allow him to sound good.

At it's core, all you're doing is putting a mic on the drum, then that signal goes to the pre-amp, then it gets amplified on the output stage. Think of your signal path as a line and it's as simple as that. If you notice I didn't even mention EQ (which comes after the pre-amp part) because you're going to leave that alone until you put the mic in the right spot to begin with. Then when you've got the mic in the right spot, then you start playing with the EQ. I swear, once you learn how to do this it'll be like the first time you used verbs in a sentence! Good luck!
 

timmdrum

Silver Member
If the drum sounds great by itself, the sound man's job is basically to translate that sound through the system so it sounds louder.

Run your mixing console eq flat. And then take the time to put the mic in different positions. I'm willing to bet money that whoever is miking your kit hasn't done this. A good soundman will experiment and get your sound out there the way it is. If that means the mic has to be at a 45-degree angle to the tom rims, then that's what that means. But you have to take the time to find out. Work a little harder at it and see what you come up with before declaring your kit unfit to be mic'd ;)
^
This. All of it. But I have about $.02 worth to add...

When you hear your drum acoustically, you're hearing it with yours ears, not microphones. They "hear" differently. Also, your ears aren't 1-4" from your drumheads when you're listening to them either- more difference.

Plus, when they're mic'd, are you hearing the kit by itself or in the context of the full band playing with the drums? Your statement "they sound better un-mic'ed but that's not going to work for anything but smaller venues" tells me that you kinda know that in an un-mic'd situation, even if the kit sounded "muddy" or not completely pleasing by itself due to extraneous overtones/resonance, only about a third of all that sound will cut through the din of a band (unless that band is very quiet). Once it's being heard in the context of the full band, suddenly it sounds a lot better- specifically, more "correct" or "appropriate". So, with mic'd drums and other instruments also going through the PA simultaneously, the same general effect should occur- not all the ring/overtones from drums will be heard through the mix of guitars, keys, vocals, etc.

Now having said all that, mic placement affects things that don't come into play when the kit is un-mic'd, obviously. Angling the mics to point more to the center of the head accentuates attack, more to the area between the middle of the head and the rim accentuates resonance- and this is with the mics angled roughly 45 degrees to the head. Flattening the mic to closer to parallel to the head brings out attack & picks up less resonance to an even bigger degree. (But then, you run the risk of each mic picking up more than the drum you're micing, so I don't dig that method. I used to work with a soundtech that thought that, since this method worked great on the snare, the same went for the toms, not realizing that this made every tom mic essentially point right at the snare...) Then, there's distance (there's a word for it that I can't recall, but basically, the closer a mic is to the sound source, the more lower frequencies the mic will pick up), type of mics (their frequency response patterns, amount of off-axis rejection, etc), the rest of the signal chain (sound processing devices between the mic and the speakers)...

Basically, what Bo said is spot-on. With great-sounding drums, even with minimal signal processing, it should be easy to get that great sound out through the PA. Keep everything basic, and then don't judge it until you hear the kit in the PA with all the other instruments & vocals also, i.e. not in a solo "bubble". Then, if there's too much resonance still, back the mic away a little, or angle it more toward the stick impact area, or slap a half a Moongel on it. Experiment, but in simple, single steps.

Lastly, is it someone else's opinion of your drums' sound when mic'd that you're stating as "bad", or your own? Are you sitting behind the kit, tapping, and a bandmate or sound tech is telling you that it's bad? Some people will tell you that it's too "ringy" because they don't understand what I've described above, about hearing it in context. If this is the case, refer to Bo's 1st sentence in the portion I quoted above.

Oh, by the way, I'm not too far from you, over in Wilson, and I've played in several Triangle-based bands. We may have met previously, or have mutual friends. Who are you currently playing with?
 

NC68

Senior Member
Bo Eder and Timmdrum - thank you both for your feedback, (no pun intended...again!). Very valuable insight based obviously on experience with mic'ing and sound engineering which is something I am just starting to experiment with on my own mainly so I have a better understanding on how to get the best sound from my kit.

I played this weekend at church and they had a guy who knew how to really run sound and it made a huge difference. The bass drum was punchy and the toms sounded much better. Someone even came up afterward and commented that the drums sounded great, (which was a first). The overall monitor mix was the best yet so both of your comments about knowing how to use the equipment were spot on.

Timmdrum, I don't think we have met but you would be someone who would be good to know! Currently, I am playing at church and I will soon be doing some session [recording] work for some local musicians. If the right band was looking for a drummer I'd be interested but as you probably know it has to be a good fit. Let me know when/if your band is playing next and maybe I can stop by and say hello.

Thanks again to both of you.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Bo Eder and Timmdrum - thank you both for your feedback, (no pun intended...again!). Very valuable insight based obviously on experience with mic'ing and sound engineering which is something I am just starting to experiment with on my own mainly so I have a better understanding on how to get the best sound from my kit.

I played this weekend at church and they had a guy who knew how to really run sound and it made a huge difference. The bass drum was punchy and the toms sounded much better. Someone even came up afterward and commented that the drums sounded great, (which was a first). The overall monitor mix was the best yet so both of your comments about knowing how to use the equipment were spot on.

Timmdrum, I don't think we have met but you would be someone who would be good to know! Currently, I am playing at church and I will soon be doing some session [recording] work for some local musicians. If the right band was looking for a drummer I'd be interested but as you probably know it has to be a good fit. Let me know when/if your band is playing next and maybe I can stop by and say hello.

Thanks again to both of you.
See? It does work! An absolutely horrendous-sounding kit can be made to sound great on record, so your good-sounding acoustic drums just needed the right engineer to give you the possibilities. Glad it worked out ;)
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Mike's toms sound fat and punchy with a quick decay in resonance.

Any thought's? Is Mike using compression or something?
Yes on compression, gating, EQ, and probably a touch of reverb, too.

The most noticeable effect to a drummer is EQ, and understanding how drums typically are EQ'd on a mixing console (or in a computer) can help you get the sound you want. Gating and compression will increase or decrease the amount of sustain and/or resonance you'll hear from a drum (kick and snare tend to already have less sustain, by nature of their size, tuning, and place in the music).

Just some quick tips on drum processing:

- Boosting the low end (50Hz-200Hz) can add oomph to kick and snare, and sustain to the toms. Too much, though, and things can get out of control and feedback quickly. Typically, kicks get boosted around 60Hz.

- Reducing the midrange (250-600Hz) will usually get rid of a "boxy" or "boingy" sound. Where and how much midrange to reduce depends on the drum, mic, and mic position. Reducing the midrange too much can remove too much of the drum's sound.

- Adding high end (2-6kHz) will add "attack". Kick and snare will usually benefit from small boost around 4 kHz.

- It's common to remove all but the highest frequencies in hi-hat and overhead mics (anything below 1kHz), so that those mics add "sizzle" to the cymbals, and some "snap" from the snare and toms. This is not a hard-and-fast rule.

- By placing a mic very close to a drum, you can take advantage of a mic's proximity effect, and enhance the low end of the the drum's sound. Tom mics are often used this way.

- After the drums are EQ'd, then they are usually gated and compressed, if such processing is available. Of course, it's possible to gate and compress, and then EQ, if the console will permit.
 
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