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Live Sound Month!

Jazz Drum Miking – A Different Animal (Part 1)

Q: “I’m trying to record a jazz drum kit and the drummer is complaining that he can’t hear enough of the “stick” sound on the cymbals. I’m using overhead mics to capture the cymbals and I’m afraid that, if I bring them in any closer, I’ll get too much bleed from the rest of the kit. What can I do?”

A: The first thing to understand is that in what is sometimes called “mainstream” jazz – the swinging type – the role of the elements of drum kit is almost completely reversed from that of pop and rock drums. In most rock drumming the beat and backbeat are maintained with the kick (bass) drum and snare, with subdivisions of the beat played on the high hat, with a ride cymbal being used on a chorus or bridge. But jazz drummers keep time on the ride cymbal, with periodic accents played by the snare and bass. The high hat often is exclusively used to highlight beats 2 and 4 with the foot pedal only.

So your first action should be to make certain you’ve got your levels set appropriately – not so heavy on the kick, snare, and high hats. That alone might bring the ride cymbal(s) into more focus.

Next, note the general volume levels your drummer is generating on drums and cymbals. They might be lower than you expect, so you can bring those overheads in a few inches without the bleed you’re worried about. And judicious use of input EQ – in the form of a low cut filter – can keep the toms in control.

Then consider using a close mic on the ride cymbal. This can be a challenge for a couple of reasons. First, you have to keep out of the way of the natural swing (and this time we mean the actual motion) of the cymbal, for physical and acoustic reasons. If the surface of the cymbal keeps moving towards and away from the spot mic, you’ll get uneven response. Second, cymbals are complex sound generators that have a series of nodes and anti-nodes on their surface. If you focus in on a node (where vibrations are effectively stopped), your close mic will not be effective.

A few years back InSync had a Summit on drum miking, and it’s still online at:

www.sweetwater.com/insync/summits/

You’ll find a number of interesting approaches described there. Try them all! And remember, many of the “great” jazz recordings were made with just one mic positioned in front of the drum kit!

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