You may never have to find a way to mic an instrument that's never existed before. Or use the same materials found in bulletproof vests to shield mic cables onstage. But at one point or another, you'll be presented with a miking challenge requiring a creative solution.
In this installment of TECH TIPS, With some help from our friends at Shure, we'll talk to the pros - from Michael McDonald's FOH engineer, to a guitar player/Rancho de la Luna studio owner to a rock/jazz drumming legend. Each with a story to tell and a tip to share.
Billy Ward: Touring and Recording Drummer's Drummer
He’s worked with everyone from Yoko Ono, Robbie Robertson and Joan Osborne to jazz artists like Bill Evans Supergroup, Living Time Orchestra and Leni Stern while finding time to produce Big Time, an instructional DVD, his way cool Two Hands Clapping CD, and Inside Out, a compilation of his “Concepts” articles from Modern Drummer magazine.
According to one reviewer, “Billy Ward must munch on a steady diet of hipness pills. Everything he plays just sounds so cool.”
So, here it is. Ten minutes with the master.
Miking Application - Drums
There are many ways to skin a cat. Everybody has their secret ways to mic a drum kit, but in the end, there are no "across the board" rules because there are so many factors in achieving a successful drum sound on tape.
The room is the biggest factor, which is usually overlooked by inexperienced engineers. Then, of course, there’s the tuning of the drums and the drummer's touch. Geoffrey Daking once pointed out to me in an article for Modern Drummer Magazine: "You can take six drummers in the same room with the same drums and mics and you will have six different drum sounds."
Personally, I always encourage younger, budding engineers to get mics that have different patterns available (such as the KSM44 and KSM141 series mics). A figure-8 pattern (like in the KSM44) is tighter - like two hypercardioid patterns. If you are doing a multi-tom setup, placing the KSM44 for two toms is a great solution. Everybody knows that more mics are bad - they create a phase party! So that's one solution for live or studio application.
For studio, when the room is sonically accurate or safe, omnis are so underrated! The KSM44s in omni are a wonderful snapshot of the drums.
As is the case with any drum miking, it's best that the mics are at equal distance from the snare drum (and the bass drum too, if possible). The KSM series is understated – it’s non-hyped in the top end. Very mixable. The sounds sit within any setting because there is nothing false in the top end.
An experienced engineer will appreciate the choices that are available and the novice can learn from the huge differences in sound and EQ that come from a different pickup pattern.
Knowledge is truly power and the KSM series enables the user to have multiple patterns at a reasonable cost. Switchable patterns R U L E!
PAL TECH TIPS readers can keep up with Billy, check out his music, sharpen percussion skills with his book and DVDs and even – yes –join the BWSS (Billy Ward Stalking Society) by purchasing licensed gear that includes everything from coffee mugs to thong underwear at www.billyward.com
Raz-Man Jeff Rasmussen: Michael McDonald's Main (FOH) Man
Jeffrey “Raz” Rasmussen ought to know a little something about mixing sound. He’s been at it for a good two decades now and has been the man behind the controls for about as diverse a group of artists as you can imagine: Rick James, LL Cool J, Oingo Boingo, Prince, Leann Rimes, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Tony Toni Tone and more recently, Michael McDonald. You get the idea. He’s a pro.
We asked Raz to weigh in with a problem and a solution.
Challenge - Miking McDonald’s vocals was a problem since Michael’s wedges can reach up to 118db, which tends to really color the FOH sound.
Solution - Shure’s KSM9 has incredible rejection of background noise. The KSM9 really isolates Michael’s voice and allows me to get a natural tone. I tried a lot of different large diaphragm condenser mics. The KSM9 was the only one to offer this performance.
The Path That Took You There - Ryan Smith of Shure told me about the KSM9. He asked me to try it. I loved it right away.
He came to a rehearsal where both of us listened to McD’s voice soloed up in the headphones. Neither one of us could believe how much isolation the KSM9 was providing with such high monitor level. Not to mention that the tone was fabulous, too. Bravo, for the Mylar diaphragm! I also use KSM32s for overheads, but I place them equidistant from the drum kit and make sure that they are in the same phase plane. This eliminates any swishy, phase shifting sound when the cymbals are struck.
- Snare: KSM27, SM57
- Kick: SM91 (Editor's Note: This product is discontinued. See Beta 91 or Beta 52 for other kick drum miking recommendations.)
- Hi-hat: KSM137
- Toms: Beta 98
- Wood Block: Beta 98
- Overheads: KSM32
Vocals: KSM9, SM58
Choir: KSM9, KSM32
Flute: KSM9, KSM32
Leslie - (Low): KSM27, (High): SM57