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Drum Miking - Why does it take ~8+ mics to capture what our TWO ears hear?
Old 16th October 2019
  #1
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Funny Cat's Avatar
Drum Miking - Why does it take ~8+ mics to capture what our TWO ears hear?

Pretty simple question. I think I have a grasp on the answer but am quite interested in others' opinions on this.

I haven't been able to place a stereo pair (in any configuration) around a drumkit and capture all the depth, detail and information my two ears hear.

Oddly, A single mic strategically placed can get "close" but it still requires multing and smashing and multiple stages of EQ and some reverb to replicate my ears.

Let me know your thoughts.
Old 16th October 2019
  #2
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cavern's Avatar
 

I think its just hard to find 2 mics that will capture all the different drums from a low kick/snappy snare to high bright cymbals ect.
It's easier to mix if I have all those different sounds recorded with the ideal mics.
It can be done though, but i have never been totally happy with the results using less than 6 mics on a 5 piece kit.
Old 16th October 2019
  #3
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Funny Cat View Post
I haven't been able to place a stereo pair (in any configuration) around a drumkit and capture all the depth, detail and information my two ears hear.
Nobody has. And if you think that's tough, go out and stand in the room next to a tenor sax. While someone's playing it, of course.

It's part of why this stuff is tricky to do, and even harder to explain.
Old 16th October 2019
  #4
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Are you playing back on an amazing speaker setup at the same volume as you heard the kit?
Old 16th October 2019
  #5
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by carlosdanger View Post
Are you playing back on an amazing speaker setup at the same volume as you heard the kit?
Who cares, if we can't include an amazing speaker setup with every record?
Old 16th October 2019
  #6
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There's a cognitive difference between what we think we're hearing and what we're actually hearing when it comes to drums in a room. Some of the differences are a result of volume (the kit in the room is louder and has more perceived punch than we think the mics can capture in playback), and ambience (in the room, the brain reduces the level of ambience perceived and focuses our attention more on the unreflected drum sounds).

The second one is what surprises me the most. It's almost as if a stereo image is far too small to capture all the nuances of the surround sound our ears are able to detect when we listen to drums live in the room.
Old 16th October 2019
  #7
Gear Maniac
Have you tried binaural mics and listening back in headphones? It can be pretty convincing.

Drum sound is weird, though, I think we've been conditioned to think of drum sound as something different than how an actual drum kit sounds. That can mess with stuff like this too.
Old 16th October 2019
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by voodoo4u View Post
There's a cognitive difference between what we think we're hearing and what we're actually hearing when it comes to drums in a room. Some of the differences are a result of volume (the kit in the room is louder and has more perceived punch than we think the mics can capture in playback), and ambience (in the room, the brain reduces the level of ambience perceived and focuses our attention more on the unreflected drum sounds).

Really good insight from everyone so far. Lots to think about here. Personally, I don't think volume is quite as big a factor as we might assume. Reason being, I have Etymotics I use most of the time when I'm behind the kit. Basically all they do is reduce the volume and protect the ears. The tone remains the same, the depth remains the same, the fullness remains, yet I cannot capture that with less than 6-8 mics placed at various distances and heights etc. How can this be explained?



Quote:
The second one is what surprises me the most. It's almost as if a stereo image is far too small to capture all the nuances of the surround sound our ears are able to detect when we listen to drums live in the room.

YES! THIS IS EXACTLY what prompted my question. So here is something interesting I've started to experience. I like to "bash" on the kit from time to time when I don't have sessions. Gives me the opportunity to put mics in weird places I wouldn't try on a paid session for experimentation purposes. When I'm doing this, I play music from my iPhone with headphones on. I usually take one side OFF and with the side that's off I place it like 1/3rd over the Tragus. It lowers the sound just enough to protect my ears and allows me to hear the sizzle of the hats just enough to lock to the music.

BUT, here is the interesting thing. The stereo image of the live drums does not diminish at all! It's like the sound of the kit is still enveloping my entire head! Even though I have the cans on. I can't explain it and I can't replicate that sound. I've placed LDC's, Ribbons and omni dynamics over my right shoulder near my ears trying to capture a glance of that "enveloping" sound but when I play it back it never ever sounds the same. It only ever gets "close" IF I have an additional stereo pair in the room as well as a mono mic somewhere way far in the corner as well as OH's and Kick + snare.

Old 16th October 2019
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobtheninja View Post
Have you tried binaural mics and listening back in headphones? It can be pretty convincing.

Drum sound is weird, though, I think we've been conditioned to think of drum sound as something different than how an actual drum kit sounds. That can mess with stuff like this too.

Haven't tried the Neumann Binaural head thingy but I have a few matched pairs of omni pencils that sound great. I've done XY, Spaced pair and ORTF with them. Yes, they capture the image but then they leave a little hole where the meat of the kit usually resides and I wind up adding Kick + Snare Mic and a mono room to fill it out. Again, this is the crux of the issue. How come my TWO ears can hear all of this detail that it takes me 6+ mics to replicate???
Old 16th October 2019
  #10
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So many approaches. Do we try to recreate reality? Usually the goal of most classical and many jazz recordings. Are we creating a hyper-reality or alternate reality? The stereo field is limited, 5.1 surround is limited I haven't even messed with the most recent stuff, Atmos etc.

So no answer here other than, yeah seems like we need to add all sorts of mics, compressors, etc etc to recreate the emotional impact of a drum set in a space.

Last edited by tymish; 16th October 2019 at 05:41 PM.. Reason: typos
Old 16th October 2019
  #11
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The last thing i want drums on my productions to sound like is what they sound like when i stand in front of the kit in the room.
Old 16th October 2019
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
The last thing i want drums on my productions to sound like is what they sound like when i stand in front of the kit in the room.
If the kit and room sound amazing, that's exactly what I want.

Albini has often said 'If the sound of the instruments in the room are not right yet, I won't put up any microphones'. Some productions require a different method for sure, but it can be a very good way of starting out.

To answer OP's question, I find that the Stapedius reflex is an important part of why our ears pick up the drumkit so differently. Adding a little compression to simulate the effect of the Stapedius reflex goes a long way IMO
Old 16th October 2019
  #13
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Interesting thread, and something I've thought about a lot.

I've found the closest thing is a stereo ribbon in front of the kit a few feet - essentially where you'd naturally stand if you were evaluating the sound of a kit before micing it. Then some parallel compression and distortion to help simulate the high SPL at low volume. Most productions want a more scooped drum sound than this provides, IME, and overhead micing gets closer to that sound.

But if you're trying to simulate the sound/feel from the drummer's perspective...that's tough. When I'm recording myself and attempting this, recorderman gets in the ballpark. I know some folks like a mic or two right over the drummer's head, but this feels like tempting fate too much for things to get moved between takes.
Old 16th October 2019
  #14
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Funny Cat's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by lobsterinn View Post
Interesting thread, and something I've thought about a lot.

I've found the closest thing is a stereo ribbon in front of the kit a few feet - essentially where you'd naturally stand if you were evaluating the sound of a kit before micing it. Then some parallel compression and distortion to help simulate the high SPL at low volume. Most productions want a more scooped drum sound than this provides, IME, and overhead micing gets closer to that sound.

Coincidentally, clips of the AEA R88 seem to confirm your statement - to an extent. I don't own any stereo Ribbons but have the R88 on my shortlist.



Quote:
But if you're trying to simulate the sound/feel from the drummer's perspective...that's tough. When I'm recording myself and attempting this, recorderman gets in the ballpark.

Yeah. It's not necessarily the sound while standing in front of the kit I'm after, it's the sound of the kit while sitting behind the kit that I'm more interested in recreating.




Quote:
I know some folks like a mic or two right over the drummer's head, but this feels like tempting fate too much for things to get moved between takes.

Agreed. Tried this a few times but the mics always get moved. Drummer has to take a potty break and just pushes the stand out of his way and doesn't mention it.
Old 16th October 2019
  #15
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juiseman's Avatar
 

Easy, you're ears are the most precise microphones ever designed.

They pickup everything!!! I guess until they can make an electronic ear;
it wont be the same.
Old 16th October 2019
  #16
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Funny Cat's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by graphicnomad View Post
If the kit and room sound amazing, that's exactly what I want.


Exactly. I can do scooped, compressed, extended high frequency + extended low frequency with no problem. Plugins make that easy. It's that natural spacious, enveloping sound I'd like to be able to do a little more often.





Quote:
To answer OP's question, I find that the Stapedius reflex is an important part of why our ears pick up the drumkit so differently. Adding a little compression to simulate the effect of the Stapedius reflex goes a long way IMO

Had to Google Stapedius Reflex. Never heard it referred to in that manner. I found this tidbit quite interesting:



Quote:
The contraction of the stapedius muscle occurs bilaterally in normal ears, no matter which ear was exposed to the loud sound stimulation


Thanks for sharing!
Old 16th October 2019
  #17
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Funny Cat View Post
Yeah. It's not necessarily the sound while standing in front of the kit I'm after, it's the sound of the kit while sitting behind the kit that I'm more interested in recreating.
One thing -- from that POV, seems to me like you hear more sympathetic snare-wire rattle from the kick than the mics usually hear. The "knee-mic" method can add some of that back in. As can putting another snare drum upside-down inside the kick, but you have to take the res head off.
Old 16th October 2019
  #18
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Here is an instrumental mix I keep in my " Reggae Reference Mixes" folder that captures the sound of a drummer behind the kit fairly well. Only Caveat is that he's using like 10 mics to do it. It's just baffling to me that I hear the kit like this with my two ears, which are subjectively inferior to the way some mics can hear sounds.






P.S. Mix is by Grammy Winning engineer Barry O'Hare.



.
Attached Files
Old 16th October 2019
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
One thing -- from that POV, seems to me like you hear more sympathetic snare-wire rattle from the kick than the mics usually hear. The "knee-mic" method can add some of that back in. As can putting another snare drum upside-down inside the kick, but you have to take the res head off.


Yeah that's what I thought too so I did a little experimenting with this. Sometimes I like to put an Omni EV-D056 on bottom snare and I keep it fairly backed off so when I compress it on mixdown, it carries a little of the other elements as well as an exaggerated (yet natural sounding) amount of snare wire rattle.

It sounds good but not quite the sense of spaciousness my two ears are picking up. Haven't tried the snare upside-down thing yet. Guess I've got my next assignment when I have down time!

Last edited by Funny Cat; 16th October 2019 at 07:37 PM.. Reason: grammar
Old 16th October 2019
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Funny Cat View Post
Agreed. Tried this a few times but the mics always get moved. Drummer has to take a potty break and just pushes the stand out of his way and doesn't mention it.
Yeah. It happens often enough with traditional micing where the stands are a couple of feet away, let alone when it is next to their body. It is my main concern with using recorderman and other spaced-pair techniques in fast-paced sessions. It's way to easy to focus on the performance and not notice a phase problem until you come back to edit
Old 16th October 2019
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lobsterinn View Post
Yeah. It happens often enough with traditional micing where the stands are a couple of feet away, let alone when it is next to their body. It is my main concern with using recorderman and other spaced-pair techniques in fast-paced sessions. It's way to easy to focus on the performance and not notice a phase problem until you come back to edit
I've heard more than one famous engineer state that they'll put up as many drum mics as possible even if they only use a few tracks at mix time. Mainly, just in case. You never know what might happen or get missed during tracking.
Old 16th October 2019
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tymish View Post
I've heard more than one famous engineer state that they'll put up as many drum mics as possible even if they only use a few tracks at mix time. Mainly, just in case. You never know what might happen or get missed during tracking.
I'm certainly not famous. But I'd probably do more of that if I had more time to spend on it and was more fond of the process. Or if a paying customer wanted it. But most of my clients have even shorter attention spans than me, and that's saying something.
Old 16th October 2019
  #23
Microphones don't have brains to interpret and refine what they are hearing.
Old 16th October 2019
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
The last thing i want drums on my productions to sound like is what they sound like when i stand in front of the kit in the room.
My first though also. Many talk about realism but I've always thought of music recording as translating a feeling. Also even if you aim to have a neural, real like drums soubds in the end, the thing is you got two speakers to match the 2 ears, but to recreate the feeling the drums in a room you need to get something near and some far + reflections. Microphones are not as ears, they "hear" things differently. Also human perception is also tactile, some (low) frequencies are felt. Hard to have just 2 mics up and make all that happen.
Old 16th October 2019
  #25
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Also, when you’re playing the kit or close to one being played, you’re more than just hearing it, you’re very much feeling the air it’s pushing.
Old 16th October 2019
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lwetli View Post
Also, when you’re playing the kit or close to one being played, you’re more than just hearing it, you’re very much feeling the air it’s pushing.

This is a good point. Question is how to capture that air with as minimal mics as possible. On a similar note, I’ve found that when I’m mixing heavier genres I really like the “feel” when you hear a little bit of the puff of air when the bass drum hits. I try and position the kick drum mic to grab a bit of that, subtly of course. That sort of stuff can translate on playback.
Old 16th October 2019
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Who cares, if we can't include an amazing speaker setup with every record?
thats the point im trying to make. I bet it would sound just like the kit in person with a sound system capable of accurately reproducing what you hear live at that volume. The binaural setup captures it just fine, its the playback that is the issue and the reason for 9 mics and triggered samples etc to get the same energy
Old 16th October 2019
  #28
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Originally Posted by carlosdanger View Post
thats the point im trying to make. I bet it would sound just like the kit in person with a sound system capable of accurately reproducing what you hear live at that volume. The binaural setup captures it just fine, its the playback that is the issue and the reason for 9 mics and triggered samples etc to get the same energy


Don’t know if I agree with this. I’ve listened to binaural recordings through really good headphones and while it does indeed capture that “all around you” feeling, it doesn’t capture the all-around AND the “right in your face - gut punch” feeling you get when sitting behind the kit. That’s what I believe most are trying to achieve when adding multiple mics when tracking.
Old 16th October 2019
  #29
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I think when sound hits your ear drum, your brain sorts a lot of stuff out.

When you put a mic in a room, the electronics aren't doing any processing between direct and reflected sound. Then during the reproduction, your ears are hearing the result of the electronics not sorting things out.

This is why speaker phones sound like garbage. If you are 3 feet from a person speaking, you don't have as much trouble getting a clear signal as a mic does. But when our hearing starts to deteriorate, one of the things I keep being told is that you start loosing the direct signal from sounds around you and they get lost in the room sound, or you can't pick a single voice out of a crowd, much like a mic can't unless it's very directional.

Binaural mics are pretty good, but not perfect.

As far as acoustics go, I heard somewhere that your brain ignores floor reflections to a certain extent. If your ear is 5'7" from the ground, it will always be that height whether you are in a closet or a gymnasium and your brain tends to ignore constants, it works on voltage and it takes less 'processing' to ignore what it is used to, then it can focus on change to keep you aware of important things in your environment. But that doesn't take sitting into account so....
Old 16th October 2019
  #30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Funny Cat View Post

Thanks for sharing!
I’d even say that the Stapedius reflex is one of the reasons mix bus compression works so well: our ears compress the sound when we hear loud music. So adding a compressor to the mixbus simulates the effect of hearing loud music, even if we’re listening at lower volumes.

One of the teachers at my university did a lot of research on how our ears work and based a lot of his mixing theories on these principles, and he told me about this
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