Micing toms is probably one of the most artistic way of amplifying drums.
There are lots of opinions and it is often confusing what to use for your drum sound.
This article will tell you the basics on how to approach this topic, with several options and tips along the way. Let’s get started!
Historical facts show that the music industry started micing up the toms all the way back in the 1940s, 1976 as evidenced in the recording sessions of Peter Criss from Kiss.
The drums sounds were already captured on a few other recordings, but this particular drum sound didn’t happen until that time and still to this day has inspired hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. You can check out those records here:
The kick drum sound of that session was achieved with a Shure Beta 52 inside the front head and an AKG D20E on the outside of the front head, both miced with a Sennheiser MD421.
The toms was captured with a Sennheiser MD421 and a Shure SM57 placed about 1cm away from the rim.
The snare drum sound was achieved by taking a Shure SM81 and placing it right below the snare rim, slightly pointing towards the beater.
The tom mics was mixed with a stereo overhead mic to capture some ambiance.
Today, this combination is often used to achieve 80% of most drum sounds for hard rock and heavy metal music. The SM 57 on Tom’s are still very common, but people often use it on toms, too.
This is one of the most popular combinations for studio recording and live shows.
So, why are these mics so popular? The simple reason is that they are sturdy workhorses that sound great on lots of different sources. They don’t really excel at anything but are good enough for just about anything.
They are also known for having a fairly high noise floor, which is very desirable when recording drums in many cases to get some extra “grit” and added life in the sound.
Another popular choice for studio recording would be using CAD (Computer Audio Design) mics. These are all over the place because they can do everything.
The cool thing about CAD microphones is that they are cheap (most of them), designed for home studio use and they sound surprisingly good on lots of instruments.
The problem with these mics, however, is their durability. If you drop one, it’s dead – at least for a while until you get it back up to spec again.
As a general guide, Toms are usually miced with overhead microphones. The kick drum has its own mic to get the attack and tone. But why do we have to place mics around the kit?
Early recordings, pre-1940s show some great examples of what I call “walking bass drums” or for you technical people out there, low volume bass drums that has lots of tone.
If you want to experience classic micing toms I would recommend Checking out these tracks from John Bonham recorded in 1969
The drum fill at the end is a great example of what anyone would want to achieve when recording toms. The bass drums are ultra low and gives the listener enough room to work within the mix when filtering out unnecessary frequencies and adding in some extra “grit” from a sample.
In my opinion, the only way to achieve this sound is with overhead microphones and overheads are most commonly used. It can be done with close mics as well, but you have to be very careful about phase issues, leakage, and bleeding through the microphone capsules.
Reading up on close-micing the toms might be a good idea if you want to go pro, but it can easily get messy and hard to work with.
In the sound clips from “Blizzard of Ozz” , for example, you can hear a close mic on toms that sounds very boomy and uncontrolled, but this was done purposely because they wanted the toms to sound more present in the mix.
If you listen closely, you can actually hear another mic on the other side of the drumkit where they did a beautiful job of capturing room ambiance. This is one of the ways Ozzy Osbourne records impressively mastered micing toms.
While it is fairly easy to say that you don’t have to fully understand what goes into recording drums and all the other stuff going on while tracking, it’s good to read up a bit and try to make your own educated decision when recording drums.
So, as a general guide, Tom Mics are usually an overhead, with a close-mic for those who want to go Pro. This is what you would see on most albums as well.
So next time someone ask, “Hey! How do you mic Toms?” You can respond with the answer, “With an overhead and close mics for those who want to go pro.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Tom Micing.
As micing toms continue to enjoy more widespread popularity, there are many questions regarding the subject that continue to arise.
Here’s a list of some frequently asked questions about micing tom drums, along with some tips and hints for recording engineers who may be looking into the process for the first time:
Q) Can you use less than two microphones on each tom? What about just one mic?
As a general guide, you can use just one microphone on each head. But placing two mics about an inch away from the surface of the drum will give you a better sound than just using one mic in most cases.
This is because phase issues may start to occur when only using one capsule and the resulting wave and phase cancellation will reduce the overall sound of the instrument.
Q) Can you use more than two microphones on each tom?
In general, It’s not recommended to use more than two microphones on each drum. However, if you are strictly looking for an effect, such as a stereo ambiance, or perhaps an odd-sounding phase cancellation, exceptions can be made.
Nonetheless, using four mic capsules on each drum is generally not a good idea. As a general guide, two is enough in most cases, so it’s always best to start with that before you move on to other mic arrangements.
Q) How close should I place the micing toms microphone?
Typically, placing your microphones about an inch away from the surface of the head will give you the best results. On larger drums, such as floor toms, there
Q) Should you point the microphones directly down onto to the drumhead, or should you angle the capsules according to the size of each drum?
It’s generally best to go by ear and configure your mics according to their respective drums. Some engineers like to use techniques such as “trickling” the mics down the drumset. Others prefer to place them directly overhead, while some try to capture a combination of both techniques.
Q) Do I have to worry about phase issues when placing the mic capsules?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s always best to plan out your mics according to how you will be using them. Since the majority of micing toms involves placing them directly overhead, utilizing cardioid or hypercardioid capsules that are phase-coherent is the best way to avoid any sort of problems that may arise due to phasing issues.
Q) What About Tom Mic Mounts?
There are many different tom mic mounts available on the market today. It’s always best to stick with a mount that is solid and sturdy, in order to avoid any mishaps.
Some drummers can be fairly rough when hitting their cymbals, so it’s always good to make sure you are using quality equipment when micing toms.
Q) What about placement? Do I have to place them directly overhead?
One technique is placing your microphones about a foot over each drum. This will give you the best results when using the close-mic technique for smaller drums, such as 8″ toms.
For larger drums, such as floor toms and 18″, it’s usually best to choose an overhead configuration in order to capture each drum’s full sound.
Q) What about preamp settings? Should I use the same settings as the overheads?
As a general rule, it can be beneficial to run all your mics through a single channel. If you do decide to record each mic on their own tracks, for instance, two channels of a four-channel mixer, you may want to adjust the output levels.
This is because each drum typically has a different volume and tonal range. To compensate for this variance in volume, simply adjust the individual channel’s output level accordingly, then bring it back up to unity gain via the master fader.
Q) How Can I Make My Toms Sound Good?
Sometimes, achieving a good sound can be challenging. There are many factors that you will need to consider in order to achieve this goal, so it’s always best to plan accordingly.
For instance, if your drums are “ringing” too much after recording them for an extended period of time, try dampening them with some towels or blankets. If that doesn’t work, simply move your microphones further away. This will reduce the number of overtones you are capturing.
Q) Can I use any types of microphones?
Generally, any type of microphone can be used for micing toms as long as they are cardioid or hyper-cardioid capsules. However, since tom mics sound best when they are pointing directly down onto the drumhead, using a microphone that is phase-coherent can be beneficial.
Tom Micing Techniques
There are many different techniques when it comes to micing toms. For instance, some engineers like to use spaced pairs while others prefer cardioid or hyper-cardioid configurations. Usually, the best result will be achieved by combining the two concepts.
The majority of micing toms involve pointing a cardioid or hyper-cardioid microphone directly at the drumhead — this is often called the close mic technique. The three most common tom micing techniques are summarized below:
- Close Mic Technique – Pointing Your Mics Directly At The Head This is the most common technique and will produce the best results with smaller drums such as 8″ and 10″ toms.
- Mid/Side Technique – Capturing A Wide Stereo Image With Two Mics Only works with larger drums, such as floor toms and 18″ toms.
- Overhead Technique – Using Three Mics For An Expansive Sound. This technique can be used to mic up any type of tom.
Some engineers will utilize a combination of the three techniques in order to get a wide variety of sounds from each drum. The choice is yours, and ultimately, it’s about capturing the best tone possible when recording toms.
Is Shure SM57-LCE Cardioid Dynamic Instrument Microphone with Pneumatic Shock Mount Good for Toms
The SM57-LCE is an excellent microphone for micing toms. It’s a dependable workhorse with many applications and will produce great results when recording toms.
If you want to mic the drumheads, but reduce ambiance during tracking, this may be a helpful accessory as well as an excellent investment as it will last for years as long as you take care of it properly.
In general, as long as you are using a cardioid or hyper-cardioid capsule, any type of microphone can be used to mic up your drums. However, if you are looking for the best possible result, then an SM57-LCE is an excellent choice.
Q) How do I make my toms sound bigger?
If your toms are sounding too small, try adding a mic overhead. This will allow you to capture the overall drum sound and balance out any low frequencies being captured from your close mics.
In addition, you can use a dynamic microphone to tighten up your tom sound. Dynamic mics are often the most flexible option as they offer great dynamics and high SPL capabilities.
Using a combination of dynamic and condenser microphones for your close mics will help you achieve a big drum sound without sacrificing any accuracy or low end information.
Small toms can sometimes sound boxy or “ringy.” If this is the case, try using a large-diaphragm condenser microphone and position it off-axis from the drum’s center in order to reduce any ringing. The AKG C414 will work great for this application.
If you are having trouble capturing a clear and balanced tone from your toms, try moving the mic away from the drum and toward the soundhole.
If you are using a condenser microphone, then this will allow full frequency response from higher frequencies through low frequencies — which is essentially how most drums work.
In some cases, simply pointing a cardioid or hyper-cardioid microphone directly at the drumhead will work best, but for some toms you may have to experiment with your mic placement.
Why Is The Md421 Good For Toms?
Despite differing opinions or schools of thought, any microphone can be used to mic up your drums. However, there’s a reason why those looking for the best possible results use an Md421 for their close mics.
The Md421 has a smooth and full tone which makes it ideal for capturing a wide variety of drums. In fact, the entire drum kit will sound more balanced with this microphone mounted on your snare or toms compared to any other mic.
In order to get the best possible sound from your drums, try using an MD421 as your primary close mic and an SM57-LCE as your secondary microphone. If you want to use additional microphones, then choose condenser mics and cardioid capsules for your other close drum mics.
Overall, the MD421 is a great dynamic microphone choice when capturing rock drums due to its ability to handle extremely high SPLs without sounding thin or flat in the end result.
When recording drums, is an SM57-LCE Cardioid Dynamic Instrument Microphone with Pneumatic Shock Mount Good for Toms?
In short, the SM57-LCE is an excellent dynamic microphone choice when micing toms. It’s a dependable workhorse with many applications and will produce fantastic results when recording toms.
If you want to mic the drumheads but reduce ambiance during tracking, this may be a helpful accessory as well as an excellent investment as it will last for years as long as you take care of it properly.
In general, any type of microphone can be used to mic up your drums. However, if you are looking for the best possible result, then an SM57-LCE is an excellent choice.
What Is the Sennheiser 421 Used For?
The Sennheiser 421 is a dynamic microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. It features a frequency response of 30-15 kHz, an SPL of 130 dB and weighs in at 940 grams.
This mic was originally designed for studio recording but has since been used on stage by many artists, including the Rolling Stones, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Marley and more.
In short, the Sennheiser 421 is a versatile microphone that can be used in a variety of different applications. Since it has a full-bodied tone with a smooth top end, it’s best for vocals and instruments such as guitar.
However, some drummers and engineers also use this microphone for toms as well, and it is very effective when combined with either a secondary microphone or additional mic placement options.
What Frequency Does the Sennheiser 421 Pick Up?
The frequency response of the Sennheiser 421 is 30-15 kHz which means that it will pick up anything from high frequencies to low frequencies.
While this is a cardioid microphone, the front of the mic is specifically designed to pick up the center of the sound source while reducing ambient noise coming in from other sources.
This ensures that your backing vocals or instruments will not be picked up by this microphone, which makes it an excellent choice for recording drums when you’re looking to reduce bleed in your overall drum tracks.
Overall, the Sennheiser 421 is an excellent dynamic microphone for recording drums. It’s best used as a close mic or with additional microphones placed nearby rather than mounted on overheads or spaced pairs.
Sennheiser MD421 Vs. SM57-LCE Microphone Reviews
The Sennheiser MD421 has a smoother sound with less proximity effect than the SM57-LCE microphone.
The SM57-LCE also has an internal pop filter which makes it great for use with drums.
In short, Sennheiser MD421 is a better choice. Still, both of these microphones are excellent choices when recording drums. However, if you’re looking for a cardioid dynamic microphone, the Sennheiser MD421 is a better choice.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a microphone that can handle high-volume levels while reducing ambient noise on stage or in your studio, then the SM57-LCE may be a better option. If you’re not sure which one to go with, you can’t go wrong with either of these dynamic microphones.
Who Makes the Sennheiser MD421?
Sennheiser is a German manufacturer and designer of microphones and headphones that was founded in 1945 by Fritz Sennheiser and three partners.
Not only is this one of the best companies out there for microphones, their wireless microphone systems and audio cables are also top-notch.
In short, Sennheiser is a well-known and trusted audio company among both pro and amateur musicians alike.
When it comes to micing toms, an SM57-LCE is the best choice.
However, you might also want to consider using a Sennheiser MD421 on toms as well. Pairing the e SM57-LCE and the Sennheiser MD421 is an excellent option too.
At the end of the day, you should always choose a microphone that best suits your needs. For example, if you’re looking to reduce ambient noise coming from stage monitors or background instruments during the recording process, then the SM57-LCE is an excellent option.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a microphone that can handle high-volume levels while reducing ambient noise on stage or in your studio, then the SM57-LCE may be a better option.
If you’re not sure which one to go with, you can’t go wrong with either of these dynamic microphones.
It’s up to you and your specific situation and needs when it comes to recording drums, but either of these dynamic microphones will be an excellent addition to your studio or live setup.