Recording Drum Overhead Mics

Today I wanted to share a really awesome video with you from Sonic Scoop presented by Justin Colletti.  It dives deep into everything you need to know about overhead mic placement.  Check it out!

Video Transcript:


Hi, this is Justin with Sonic Scoop. Today we’re going deep into Drum Mic’ing Fundamentals. This time we’ll be looking at overhead mics, how to place them, and what each of the main method sounds like. We’re here at Strange Weather Recording. We’ve got some great mics from our sponsors at Sennheiser and really killer drummer Parker Kendrick behind the kit. So alright, let’s get started. Alright so we’re going to start by looking at X-Y and ORTF, two kind of similar positions where the mics are going to stay fairly close together. The idea about keeping your mics fairly close together, you see a phase coherence. So X-Y, you want to line up your capsules so they’re pretty much touching. Ideally, they’d occupy the same space in the air but they can’t. So you want your capsules pretty much touching at a 90 degree angle, almost like a corner of the rectangle and that’s X-Y; a lot of focus, decent stereo spread.


The next pattern we’re going to look at after that is ORTF and for ORTF, the mics are actually about 6 and a half inches apart at the capsule so you can measure the capsule pointing outwards by 110 degrees. And this gives us a little bit of a wider stereo spread. Stereo bar can make that pretty easy. Both of the mics can sit on the stereo bar. And there usually would be markings that would allow you to figure out just how far you can move your mics. Do get the distance, you can get a ruler which is what we’re going to do today or you can kind of eyeball it. If you don’t have a stereo bar, again X-Y pretty easy, ORTF you can kind of line up the back of the mics 90 degrees and then just cheat them out a little bit to 110, get some extra distance and you’re pretty much there. A common approach for X-Y or ORTF is to come in like this but you could plausibly come behind the drummer’s head.


If you were to do that, you might get a little bit less symbol sound, a little bit more of the skins and resonance of the drum and that can be good if you have a real basher on the symbols which when you’re starting out, you’ll deal with a lot of symbol bashers. The only issue if you’re coming from this angle, you might get a lot more bleed from the rest of the band if you’re tracking a group together. What we’re going to do is start with X-Y from a front of kit position and then move into our ORTF. One last disclaimer I want to add on, the difference between the two takes you’re going to hear could be almost as significant as the difference between these two mic placements. They really are pretty similar. So make sure you’re listening on a good pair of headphones or a good set of speakers, and you might want to go ahead and put this in high definition if you’re watching on YouTube over on the bottom right-hand side of your screen you can set this video to HD.


So you can make sure you’re going to hear the differences. Alright, let’s hear them.

*X-Y recording plays*

*ORTF recording plays*

The next two overhead patterns we’re going to go look at are Spaced Pair and Glyn Johns. If you want to get more spread, more spaciousness, Spaced Pair. For Spaced Pair technique you’re spacing them out left and right over the kit. There’s a million different approaches to Spaced Pair. The way that I’m going to do it now is my kind of default approach. But some people will space them kind of close together, point them outwards, I tend to like to go pretty wide.


Because for me, half the point of Spaced Pair is to get kind of exaggerating stereo spread. That kind of sound is not going to be right for every record but in records where it does work, it really works. If you want spread in your symbols, if you want some kind of spread in your tom fills, Spaced Pair can really help accent that. The biggest thing for me though is centering the kit drum. Now you might say Justin, if you center the kit drum, the snare drum is going to be off to one side to which I say, you’re point? That’s kind of how the kit sounds and I don’t mind it. If you want to center your snare and have your kick off center, that’s your prerogative. Some people prefer it that way. That’s fine. There’s really no right and wrong way with spaced pair other than watch out for phase meaning if you’re too far away and too close together, higher likelihood of phase issues on any one piece of the kit.


If you’re further apart, lower down, less likelihood of phase issues on any one piece of the kit especially pieces that are centered in between the two mics.  Another good method is Glyn Johns and Glyn Johns is a nice compromise between the Spaced Pair which can get you a lot of spread, for some people too much spread, and those more focused mic’ing options. For Glyn Johns, you’re going to put a microphone directly over the snare drum, maybe three to four feet up. Your second microphone looks in over the shoulder of the tom drum towards the head of your snare. Here’s the big catch. It wants to be exactly equidistant from your top mic. There’s a couple ways to do this. You can again get a tape measure.


A lot of folks don’t have a tape measure in the studio. I almost never carry one but you can take a microphone cable, mark off the distance and check the distance to your tom mic. With just those two mics and kick and snare, you’re in pretty good shape; got the whole kit covered, a lot of records and sample packs have been made with just those four mics. Let’s hear how these two sound.

*Spaced Pair recording plays*

*Glyn Johns recording plays*

Who’s to say you need two overhead mics at all? We’re going to try one overhead. A lot of great records have been made this way in the past and now. It’s a really classic approach. This is a Neumann M269, kind of like a Neumann U67. We’ve got a Neumann FET 47 out in front of the kit right now.


These are some pretty nice vintage mics from Strange Weathers but you can get newer versions of these kinds of mic distributed in the US now from Sennheiser. Let’s hear what this sounds like.

*Mono recording plays*

Thanks for tuning into this episode on overhead mics. Stay tuned for the next episode on close mic’ing and room mic’ing. Subscribe for free at Thanks, see you next time.