Why A Mono Drum Overhead Is Awesome

| Tips

If you’re like me, you are constantly challenged when it comes to recording great sounding acoustic drums. And for good reason. With so many elements to the kit, it is consistently the hardest instrument to capture with punch, power, and realism. But did you know that recording a mono drum overhead will help you get better sounding drums, faster?

TRR138 Why A Mono Drum Overhead Is Awesome

Via solidariat Flickr

No Phase Issues With Overheads

The biggest problem with stereo miking drum overheads is dealing phase issues. More specifically when your sound source is hitting two microphones at slightly different times you get tracks that are out of phase and create some cancellation of the sound source, resulting in thin weak recordings. Of course this can be avoided with careful placement and measurement. A great way to start is the recorderman method or the Glyn Johns technique.

But what’s even easier is to simply throw up one overhead mic to capture the entire kit, rather than two. You have absolutely no phase issues because you aren’t trying to capture an instrument with two mics, but with one. I know it sounds obvious, but this is a no brainer when you want punchy, clear, and artifact free drum overheads.

You Can Use Your Best Mic

When stereo miking anything it is best to use a matched pair of mics, or at least the same model. This is because you are treating the two mics as one capturing device. But what do you do if you don’t own a nice pair of mics? Many people go out and buy a drum mic bundle. Although there’s nothing wrong with this (I’ve done it) you’re likely getting a good value so the overhead mics aren’t going to be the highest quality.

If you already have one nice microphone that you use for vocals, let’s say, why not use that as your drum overhead? Don’t compromise on sound quality just so you can get a stereo drum overhead, use your best mic on the most challenging instrument and you’ll likely get a better sound as a result!

Mono Drums Can Sound More Focused

One final great reason to record with a mono overhead is that in the end, a mono drum recording can sound way more punchy in the mix. Now this isn’t to say that typical stereo drums DON’T sound punchy, but as it relates to creating clarity and separation in your mix with panning, nothing beats putting the drums up the middle and panning other things out wide.

The drums will sound like they do in real life, coming from one location in space. This helps the brain to focus on the drums and feel them as a powerful instrument. If you haven’t tried this, do it. It can sometimes be just what your mix is needing.

Going Somewhat Stereo

And if all mono drums sounds a bit too boring to you (even though no one will know it’s not stereo once they are a few feet away from the speakers) you can always go somewhat stereo by panning toms a bit out from the center and running everything (especially the overhead) through a stereo room or plate reverb. This will give your tracks a bit of space in the background will keeping the attack and main tones of the kit coming straight out of the center.




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64 Responses to “Why A Mono Drum Overhead Is Awesome”

  1. Andrew Shook

    I’ve been using a mono overhead on my last few projects and my drum sound is 10 times better because of it. I actually like the mono drums better. They do sound tighter and more “real.”

  2. Andrew Gaul

    I’ve actually been fighting with my overheads lately, and kinda wanting to pan them closer and closer to center. I like the idea of using a mono overhead, and still panning toms out wide(r) for some ear candy.

  3. Jake

    He’s right, the main part of the kit I like to here in stereo are the toms. Which can be close miked. I like kick and snare up the center and mono could help make those more focused. The only thing is I kind of really do like stereo cymbals, it sounds cool when I hit 2 crashes and here them left and right. Thinking I should try this mono idea out and if I really like how it sounds it may be worth giving up those cool stereo crashed for it.

  4. Reid Geisenhof

    Mono drums sound like classic recordings–love ’em. Especially come mix time. The usual caveats apply–make it sound right before the mics go up, gotta have good drummer, blah blah blah–but as long as a “vintage-y” drum sound works with your music, really, it can’t be beat. More time spent making music and having fun grooving, zero time spent hunting down stray resonances and phase issues. Making great-sounding records does NOT have to take for-freaking-ever. I used to think if I wasn’t spending a lot of time and using every mic in my locker, I wasn’t trying hard enough!

  5. Scott

    When you use a mono overhead, do you supplement with close mics for the kick and snare similar to the Glyn Johns method?

    If so, have you ever tried micing the snare from below? I know a lot of engineers like to add a mic to the bottom of the snare to capture extra fullness as well as a bit more of the wire sound. I imagine that would be a good way to supplement the crack of the snare that you’d get with the mono overhead, but I don’t have a kit to record so I can’t test right now.

    • drstraz

      i ALWAYS use a bottom snare mic. I don’t understand how it’s be come such an “accessory” to the set up. I’d only not use it if I was going to a minimalistic direction. Most of the crisp crack is in that mic and add a lot when pair with the top. (don’t forget to flip the phase!) whatever sounds basier is the correct phase option

  6. A4

    I tried this last time I recorded drums, with 2 room mics (about 4 meters away) in X/Y as well. That way, I got both good transients, stereophonic room-mojo AND phase consistency.

    As long as you don’t need your cymbals to be super-wide, this technique really rocks!

    • Graham

      Yes, the stereo room mics would be filling out the ambience a bit. Nice.

  7. Colin

    Where do you find is roughly the best place for a mono overhead? I’ve been told directly above the snare (similar to the first mic in the recorder man set up) is good.

    • Graham

      You have to try and listen back :-) It will totally depend on the kit, the player, and the mic. But yes, I like to place over the snare to start.

  8. Doug

    Graham I just want to thank you for these awesome tips. They are tremendous help for newbies like me. I think reading through what you offer through this site has probably attributed to some very early successes. I can’t wait to try this technic in the next session with my band.

      • Doug

        Hi Graham. Just thought I would come back and share my experience trying out this tip. I have to say this is such an awesome tip! The result was fantastic and couldn’t be more simple to implement. Before we were using 2 overheads and I always felt the cymbals were just maybe too much. After listening back to a live recorded track during rehearsal, we all agreed the mono overhead is the way to go. Thanks again for what you give us newbies!

  9. Mike

    Great Blog ! Mono makes so much sense now that you have walked us through the process. I have been experimenting with individually tuned absorbers for the bass, snare, and tom tom. They are freestanding units 3 ‘ high. Mono should pick up the drum sound change due to lower pressure at the mic. much better than stereo.

    Thanks, again. Great info.


  10. Joesi

    Hey Graham,
    It is good to read that there is someone encouraging the people not to give a damn about that “THEY do it stereo, so I gotta do it, too”.
    I think it was Jake who said that he liked that cymbal-left/right image.
    Here is my tip, at least I’m doing this all the time:
    Layering. When tracking the drums is done, ask the drummer to hit the cymbals alone and use those single hits as samples on separate tracks. those can be panned to left and right and mixed in to your taste to get a nice stereo cymbal image without losing the punch of your mono OH mic.

  11. Simon

    Hmm I’ve been somewhat bothered with having too much cymbals in my overheads lately. I often use the Recorderman technique and it sounds good on its own but in the mix there’s often too much cymbals and i feel like I loose energy if i turn the OHs down… But if I remove the OH over the shoulder and go Mono with the other one it sounds great… Next project I have (in two days) I WILL go with a mono LDC!

    • Joesi

      Ohhh yes, I know that problem!
      As I am a kind of experimental recording guy I try to avoid mixing problems by adapting the technique I use. There´s no law forcing you to record drums all at once. Dismount the cymbals and record the kit without them (let the drummer hit the air;-)). Then, track the cymbals seperately. Now you can set the level of the cymbals independently. Actually, you could record the natural bleeding of all mics though I´m not sure if the benefit is that big.

      [Personal note: While Graham is a “ProToolian” -and a great one- , I come with the Reaper :-)
      In Reaper you can enable “free item positioning” so that you don’t even need seperate mix tracks for your afterward tracked cymbals. Just place them where they belong to. While the cymbal hit fades out all the other stuff recorded before in that track plays on.
      That comes in handy when you really want to record all the bleeding because you keep the original number of tracks and everything runs through the same FX chain.]
      Graham’s tips work wonderfully with any DAW

  12. Simon

    Wow yeah, i can see how that could be useful and kinda cool, would make you able to compress the overheads quite alot and keep the cymbals nice. Would be cool to try that kinda thing but I feel like I need to gain confidence in myself as a mixer and recording engineer and also put out good sounding mixes to make a band feel like that kind of experimintation can be cool because they trust me. Otherwise they might say i waste their time and money on things that doesnt sound good.

    • Joesi

      Graham is the best source to become a great mixing engineer :-)

      Just explain why such experiments are necessary. They want a great sound? Fine, they gotta be flexible and open-minded. If the are sceptical trust me; They see what you were talking about when they hear the mix. Cymbals under control…

      • Graham

        That’s kind of you. I’m trying to at least be a solid source. Plenty more out there!

  13. Jon

    Nice post. Just something else to be aware of, but using a single mono overhead does eliminate phase issues between the two overheads (since now there’s only one overhead), but there could still be phase cancellation between the one overhead and the snare mic, the overhead and the kick mic, etc. So you should still check the phase between the overhead and those close mics by flipping the phase and seeing if the low end sounds fuller.

    Also, if you do choose to use two overheads (or two room mics), be sure to use a piece of string or mic cable to get the mics an equal distance from the snare drum, which will help minimize phase issues, as the snare seems to be the worst part of the kit to suffer from it.

  14. Matic

    Hi! This site is TITS!!! Thanks Grahm you rock. I own one M-Audio Profire 610 which has only 4 inputs, and i have 4 mics: 2x T-Bone SC 400, 1x Beyerdynamic M 422 and AKG D-12. Please tell me how to mic the drums with only what i have, the optimal setup. I will track death metal drums for a band and i decided to use 1 overhead mic. The AKG D-12 is for kick.

    • SilentSky

      Like you said, D12 on kick, M422 on Snare, and since you don’t have any Tom Mics, in this case I would use the Recorderman Overhead setup (stereo), which will cover the whole kit, and should give you plenty of Toms.

    • Joesi

      Hi Matic, hi Graham
      This is a good moment to talk about my new mic setup :-) I found my own way of miking a drumkit (with 4 mics). You know, I realised that the most important drum “voices” are played from the middle to the left (K,S,HH). When it came to panning the OHs I didn`t dare to make the image too wide (l/r) because that would make the snare sit slightly on the left. I thought about a way how to balance the stereo image of a drumkit just by placing the microphones differently, not by reconstructing the whole drumkit. Well…I think I made it. As I don’t know if you are interested in the setup I won’t describe it now. Just let me know and I try to describe it. It’s a geometrical approach. (and it is even mono compatible!)
      There’s a short sample I played myself, just a few seconds. Forgive the bad playing, I’m not a drummer :-)

      • Joesi

        Oh I forgot to mention that:
        There is no compression, no EQ – it is just the raw recording.

      • SilentSky

        Your geometric approach sounds similar to the Recorderman setup. You use a piece of string to measure both mics to ensure they are equidistant from both the kick and snare to avoid any phase cancellation. It looks a little weird, but works really well.

  15. Joesi

    yes you’re right, though it’s not recorderman. It rather reminds me of a modified ORTF with another angle and distance. Actually, I would see it as a mixture of NOS and ORTF.

  16. scottirama

    i have drummers, at least for my stuff, record with superior drummer and electronic drums. i have had multiple drummers and it is easier to get a consistent drum sound with sd2.0. is it possible to “fake” this technique using a drum program, do you think? they do have an overhead mic channel. i am sure it is not going to be the same thing as the real deal.

  17. Andy

    Hi Graham

    I’m hoping you can give me some advice about drum mic techniques. I’m fairly new to recording and for the first session I engineered I used the Glynn Johns technique for the drums as my interface only allows me to record 4 inputs at once. I was pleased with the results, you can here a completed track here http://lioncubroar.bandcamp.com/track/deliver-me

    For my next session I would be interested in getting a bit more atmosphere and depth to the drum sound and instead of the Glynn Johns technique I was considering using a single overhead (Rode NT1A) one room mic (Rode NT1A) plus a kick mic and snare mic. The drawback here is only have a mono drum sound compared to the option to pan left and right with the Glynn Johns method. However, I am also concerned about potential phase problems if I use this technique. The overhead and room mics will be at different distances from the kit, will this automatically create phase problems? If these mics are out of phase and I flip the phase to correct them, will this then put the overhead out of phase with the kick and snare?

    Thanks in advance


    • Graham

      Hi Andy,

      I think that is a great idea. In fact, I just tracked a song for our DuelingMixes members with mono overhead and mono room mic. Worked great.

  18. Joesi

    hi Andy!
    I know I’m not Graham but I think I can help you quick and easy. First, let me answer your question: Yes, it’ll cause phase issues, and no, it’s no problem. When recording is finished just zoom into your tracks. Let’s take the mono OH as your reference track, as this signal represents the overall sound of your drumkit. find a kick drum hit and compare the transients with the transients of the kick-close-miking-track. nudge the latter so that the transients start at the same time. (use your edit cursor or play cursor to see precisely how much you need to nudge) Do that to the snare track and the room track. Now the different distances are equated – and you clearly see where you need to flip the phase.
    Hope that helps!

  19. Andy

    Thanks Graham and Joesi. Just a couple more questions:

    Graham, in the example you gave did you just use a mono overhead by itself or did you use teh overhead with spot mics?

    Joesi, I’m not 100% sure I understand. If the transients are aligned why would the phase need to be flipped?


    • Joesi

      Often it isn’t necessary at all. Sometimes you need to flip it when you record the instrument from very different angles. It can give you a sudden low end smack on a snare (e.g.) that comes in handy. Or: You place the OH behind the drumkit and when the drummer hits the kick he pushes the head “inside” the drum shell while the room mic picks up the pushing out of the resonance head…you see? It depends..

  20. Andy

    Sorry pal, I don’t really understand that last post. I’ll try and see how I get on

    • GetZapt

      I have done allot of single mic drum recording back in the day before digital. Placement is done thru trial and error for the sound you want to achieve. Me being a drummer, with my style, which was very hard hitting, my best full sounding kit one mic placement was just off the floor in front of bass drum, right about middle. I was hard on snare and cymbals and bottom reso heads on toms were off. So this helped keep the kick up in the mix where I liked it

  21. Serj

    If I dedice to record mono drum, the recommended polar pattern of OH should be omnidirectional, or figure eight?

    Nice Blog!!!

  22. Ben Possehl

    One question, what if you used a single mic, in a figure eight pattern with the mic perpendicular to the ground? You may have to put a little but lower to pickup the cymbals more though. Just an idea…

  23. Matt

    Hi Graham, Big fan of the blog and your youtube channel. I’m an amateur engineer and mixer, I’m a musician by trade but with a fascination in the art of recording and mixing. I was in the studio recording some drum tracks for some demo’s and the engineer who was with me did the pretty standard kick, snare, hi tom, low tom, OH left and right and room mic set up, when I took the drum tracks home to layer everything else on top I was mixing the track and the drums just didn’t sound right to the style of song, it sounded good but it didn’t sound right and as it so happened I came across this blog entry and so what I did was muted the stereo overheads, moved the room mic up a couple DB, sent that and the close mics to an aux and squashed the hell out of it so it was thumping and it was giving the cymbals a great shimmery effect like in Revolver -Era beatles tracks, added a little more top end to my toms and hard panned them L&R and I also added a stereo spread on the room mic but I focused it only on the high end so the cymbals had an effect of a little more space but still packed a punch of everything being right down the middle! So, long story short.. even though it wasn’t quite a Mono OH, a room mic works just aswell! I should mention the room was placed a bout 6 feet away from the kick drum, about 4 and half feet high (ish?) and set pointing more towards the snare



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