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I heard this saying a long time ago and I love it and still say it to this day. “The vocals are the most important part of my mix, so I will start with the drums.” The way you approach mixing may differ from mine, but I think of audio as a triangle. Just like the food industry thought up the food group triangle, I am going to make one for you here for audio.
First and foremost, we have the Drums & Bass at the bottom of the triangle making a very good – sorry for the pun – base. Next the keyboard and piano would go, some of the other backing instruments for fills could either go in this level or the next up. Then acoustic & electric guitar on the next step up. Then at the very top there is the vocals, which is what most listeners are primarily hearing. When someone walks away from a show, not many people (excluding drummers and sound guys) will say “that is the best kick drum I have ever heard” most of the listeners will say “man xyz vocalist was great today. The idea behind this is if you have a bad mix on any one of these levels the one above it will not be supported correctly.
Enough theory; lets get into some changes. At North Ridge Community Church, NRCC, we have an acoustic Pearl Session Custom drum kit, in front of that we have a plexy drum shield which helps a little for the front row of our worship center.
Next come the drum microphones… this is where it is lacking big time. We had some off brand microphones that were made by Audio-Technica. There is no data on the mics and they honestly sounded horrible the way they were set up. We had a mic on the Snare, Hi Tom, Low Tom and Kick. I started with the kick drum and pleaded for two microphones to be purchased, working with a budget that was far too exhausted for the year is tough when trying to get funds for microphones. I settled on the Shure Beta 91A and the Shure Beta 52A and they got approved.
I place the Beta 91A inside the drum on a small towel and the Beta 52A is just inside the sound hole of the front head pointed a bit off center from the beater. The combination of these two microphones is amazing. You can really hear the body and natural sustain of the kick with these mics. Here is a recording of a resent Sunday at NRCC worship song is called Happy Day:
Next, I grabbed an SM57 out of our amp room and switched out the no-name mic on the snare drum, this made a great difference as the SM57 is an awesome mic for the toms or snare drum. My placement is having the rear of the microphone pointed at the hi hat to reduce bleed from the hi hat (cardioid microphone pattern). I put the mic about an inch above the top head and an inch or two in from the rim pointed down toward the center of the bottom head.
Next was the hi tom, with the old no-name microphone on there. I compared an SM57 with it, but I liked the sound of the older microphone there. I just changed the placement a bit. Placement is an inch above the top head, inch in from the rim, angled down pointed closer to the mic than the center of the bottom head.
Floor tom, we replaced with a Sennheiser e906 with the switches set to normal. This is about two inches away from the top head about two inches in from the rim, pointed down toward the center of the bottom head.
Lastly, there was no microphone on the overhead. While in some venues you can get away with this, I want my main source of audio being from one point source. We have a mono system so there is no use for stereo panning, but when your mind hears the same audio coming from two different places it does tricks. So I added a AKG SE300B with the AKG CK91 capsule on it. It is a small diaphragm condenser mic that we had in the back room which sounds really nice as an overhead. Because we have a mono system in our worship center we do not need a stereo mic setup for the overheads. I have the single overhead about 1/2 ft above the cymbals and equidistant between the kick and snare.
Up at the FOH we have two DBX 1064’s which are quad channel compressors. I decided to put two of the channels on the snare and kick running a pretty high compression ratio getting about 8dB of gain reduction on peaks of the snare with a limiter just incase our drummer decides to do a bunch of rim shots. The kick drum is running about 8-10dB of gain reduction with no limiter. I wish I had controls over the attack and release however the DBX compressors are doing just fine.
Overall, the drums have improved tremendously in comparison to before. The drum set could use a new set of heads, our church budget is renewed in a month or so. In the room, the kick drum is filling the room quite a bit more and really sounds great.
Spending a few practices trying different microphones out, changing mic positions, adding compressors and tweaking EQ settings can really make a huge difference. I will say this time and time again, if you are coming into a church as a new lead engineer do not take anything for granted, check every mic cable, every microphone, just make sure that everything is setup the way it should be.