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Drums - Jazz

Miking jazz drums

Miking jazz drums with DPA microphonesMiking the jazz drum kit is a truly creative opportunity says crossTalk's resident "Drum Doctor" Gary Baldassari, an American recording engineer who knows almost as much about drum microphony as he does about sushi!

The Jazz drum kit is very different to the rock kit. Many Classic Jazz producers will not allow close up miking of the kick drum. The timing in jazz often winds up on a different section of the kit. For instance, ride cymbals or hi-hat can be keeping the time, while the kick and snare are only used for accents. There is also only one rack tom and a single floor tom. This opens up a window to be truly creative. Great jazz drummers rarely overplay. This allows a greater scope for mic technique, mostly due to the reduced sound pressure level that jazz requires. Gating and super isolation become enemies to most jazz producers.

The Classic Jazz Drum Kit can be completely covered by two 4003/6 with UA0777 nose cones. Looking at the kit from the audience's view point, place one 4003/6/UA0777 near the snare, hi-hat, rack tom, ride cymbal vortex. There is a spot in the vortex of these drums that is easy to find with your ears; in this spot, the balance between all those drum parts is obtainable and controllable. The control is accomplished by favouring the mic towards the drum part that you want emphasised.
There is a brilliance control that is available. It is the 20kHz on axis peak the UA0777 gives us; however I recommend that the brilliance peak be pointed straight through the kit and not at any part of it. Microphone number two should be placed in the vortex of the floor tom, ping, sizzler and left of the rack tom. Again balance control is easy, as your eyes and ears lead you to the spot.

Miking jazz drums with DPA microphonesYou may have noticed there is no over-head. This is correct; the balancing of the two mics gives you all the cymbals with stunning realism. The other thing is the kick drum comes in with equal excitement because it is captured in true stereo. These two microphones can be panned in many ways to close, open, or shift the drum kit image to any part of the visualised stage. In a live jazz recording, I recommend some type of brick wall clipping. The Aphex Dominator, T.C: M-5000 MD-2, UREI 1170 all do the job nicely. They each have their own sound quality.

These two 4003/6 UA0777 mics can be supplemented with spot 4011-TL/12 on any part of the kit. Distant overheads, 4011-TL/12, will add a surreal ambiance to the entire kit while specialising their spread.

If the kick drum is to be miked; try a 4004/7 on the kicker side of the drum. With the microphone placed halfway up the drum, and on the edge of the diaphragm, near the bottom of the snare. This single placement technique, combined with the already placed 4003/6 UA0777 stereo pair, will yield a nice emphasis to the strike of the kick and the rattle of the snare bottom. It pans in to the left invisibly and brings up the definition. 

Hi Hat
The Hi Hat of any drum kit provides a challenge. First off, it has a fast transient followed by a metallic tonal quality. Placement can produce sizzle or clank. Don't get me wrong about clank, because sometimes it is the clanky sound that the producer might want. Knowing where the balance is on the cymbal itself is the key, and having a microphone such as the 4004/7 is the key to opening that door of knowledge.

The extreme high frequency transient is easily handled by the 4004/7 without the typical smear of other condensers. This allows the ear to be trained on placement for tonal balance and spatial placement. The edge of the hi-hat where the two cymbals come together is the area of the sizzle. The middle of the top hat is the area of the clank caused by the drum stick. The space between these two places is where the balance lies. This balance is the producers/engineers choice. Have your Assistant Engineer move the hi-hat microphone starting at the outside edge and moving to the top centre. While the drummer is playing, and in 8 bar segments, move the microphone to at least four positions while recording a demo take. This will allow you to playback and make a decision on the spectral balance needed to enhance any song. Sometimes the desired area is in-between two positions and you may need to repeat the test to focus in to get the correct balance.

The next important thing to know about a hi-hat is that it is very close to other loud and transient drums. This presents a special problem of bleed in certain applications. With a rock, pop, or country drum kit, it is typical to filter the hi-hat below its lowest usable frequency; this stops snare, kick, and tom bleed and will allow easier gating. A variable filter that can sweep up to 250Hz is very usable. Start at the lowest frequency and sweep upwards until the low drum thuds from the snare, kick, and toms are minimised. Now you can apply a gating technique. High frequency equalisation around 2.5kHz can increase or decrease the strike sound of wood or nylon on metal. Boost equalisation around 10kHz can increase the sheen. Again by placing the 4007/4 within two centimetres of the hi-hat, the full sound of the hat can be captured while rejecting a good deal of snare, kick, and toms.

In a jazz drum kit, filtering and gating are not needed. This is due to the fact that the drummer will be keeping most of the time on the hat and not other drums. Intrusion will not be a problem; in fact if you are using all DPA/Brüel & Kjær microphones on the drum kit, the typical problems caused by phase smear will become an asset of openness, ambient clarity and dynamic realism.

The 4007/4 exhibits very little bleed when placed closely to the hi-hat: you can get closer to the hi-hat with the 4004/7 than any other condenser without high frequency distortion or transient smear. The end result is controllable spectral balance and image placement.