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Drum Microphones: In Full Band Setup, Close Micing A Necessity

If the instruments are not intelligible as well as indistinguishable from each other, then we run the risk of the heart disengaging from the meditative peaceful message.

As Johnny the replacement drummer strolls in, the sound engineer steps back to ponder whether they are about to encounter a smasher, a feather duster, possibly a perfect drummer, or a guy who should not be holding sticks at all - the bad drummer.

Close micing is a necessity in a full band setup. It can create intimacy for the drums, as well as definition.

Being heard, and more importantly understood, by the congregation is key. They are there for one singular purpose – to hear what the pastor has to say, and to feel the music and words emotionally.

If the sound is distorted and speech in the worship space is unintelligible, then everyone loses.

If the instruments are not intelligible as well as indistinguishable from each other, then we run the risk of the heart disengaging from the meditative peaceful message. We are then left to focus on misrepresentation of the instruments that is usually caused by too many reflective surfaces, a misshaped and nonequidistant space design, and too many mics on the drums, to go with a very loud drummer.

Don’t get me started…

In my opinion, though, the perfect drummer for the house of worship crowd is someone who can translate the emotional nuances, while holding the rhythm in-place with the band.

Drums can speak as clearly as words do, when the drummer is cognizant of the emotion and dynamics, especially pertaining to the vocal-drum relationship. It’s as if the words call for thunder, which then would be a great time to smash the floor-tom!

It’s worth noting up front, that a lot depends on the consistency and professionalism of the musicians.

In the wrong hands, a musical instrument can be dangerous! When people can sing or play their instruments with good dynamic control, or well enough to play within the song arrangement, it immensely helps the front of house mixer and monitor engineer.

With that being said, most acoustic instruments like the guitar, drums, or even the human voice, tend to be the most troublesome, especially when the player lacks consistency regarding dynamics.

When a worship band is made up of experienced musicians, I’ve found that drums and electric guitar are the instruments most likely to sound loudest to worshippers.

Using a mic with a supercardioid pattern, mounted directly on the instrument, will give you more gain before feedback, while allowing more level into the monitors.

A microphone such as the DPA 4099D Core, for example, can deliver these desired results. That microphone also has an extended dynamic range of 109 dB to battle the introduction of harmonic distortion into the microphone, resulting in a purer open sound. It can also handle 152 dB before clipping.

All Core by DPA technology microphones, including the aforementioned 4099d, are IP58 certified. This durability is achieved through a series of defense mechanisms including water-repellant nano-coating of the cover and housing, hermetic sealing of the sensitive amplifier at the core of the mic and dual gold plating of the diaphragm.

It also has a null point at 135 degrees off axis, giving the engineer great rejection in the off-axis. This is beneficial, when for example, you need to reduce the cymbal in the tom mic. Simply point the mic, so the 135 degrees off axis is facing the cymbal.

Because of the linear quality on/off axis frequency response, the sound both on/off axis will be of the same sonic detail, only the off axis will be attenuated. The results? Natural, accurate, and with great rejection.

The sonic beauty of drums is the resonance that can only be experienced from certain distances. This gives all frequencies a chance to unfold in air, creating an “instrument.”

Close micing is a necessity in a full band setup. It can create intimacy for the drums, as well as definition. A few overhead mics positioned between 25 inches and 40 inches off the set, can also add a bit of resonance. A single overhead can also be sufficient in such a configuration, and in my opinion, sounds more accurate.

Stereo micing can be awesome, but if not placed mathematically correct from the snare or kick, can create an image that sounds wider than the physical drum set. To me, this can sound phased or hollow.

If you blend together the close and far mics with a dynamic drummer, it can be all you need to control the most powerful aspect to the sound: the drums. In finding the right mic, a great choice for snare, kick and overheads is the DPA 2011C, as it has great off-axis rejection and is a cardioid pattern, that will capture a stereo image without the gaps that a super-cardioid would portray. Its rejection null would be closer to 180 degrees.

Here are a few other ideas you can try out.

Approach the worship band setup, as if it’s performing in a recording studio, even though it’s live. Muffle and pad the drums; put a pillow in the kick drum; put some Moongel (damper-gel) on the tom-toms, or even the cymbals. You can even use more old-school approaches, such as moleskin padding — whatever it takes to tame the drums.

That way, you’ll still hear them nicely, but they’re more controllable. Some facilities will go so far as to use a plexiglass cage for the drums; but in my opinion, this can create a boxed-in sound and increase off-axis drum energy in all the drum mics, causing lack of separation. Visually, it also adds glare and can appear odd.

Another option would be to consider electronic drums, especially if your church relies on a variety of volunteer mixers and drummers. This way, they can play the drum set as hard or soft as they want. Either way, the output is controlled by a volume knob, and can be volume-adjustable. This is a great solution for amateur drummers and can also be a worthwhile solution when the band is fully using in-ear monitors. This allows control of the drums at the desired level.

The only problem is that other band members might want to hear the drummer behind them. If that’s the case, send the electronic drums to a separate wedge monitor, facing the congregation and seated near the drummer. This way, if you’re the singer, bass player or guitarist, it will sound like there’s a real drummer behind you with a real acoustic set.

Angle the electric guitar amp away from the congregation and place a microphone on the amp and feed the appropriate monitors with its signal. Here again, control through separation wins the day.

Acoustic Accuracy, Does it Matter?

Acoustic properties of a space can influence your microphone choices.  By testing/listening to the space, you can find out if the room is too reverberant or not reverberant enough, therefore giving you the opportunity to choose the correct microphone polar pattern, sensitivity and mounting solution for your production.

In some instances, you may need to bring in acoustical treatment to minimize reflections. But, you may not always have that luxury . For example, using microphones in a space that is highly reverberant or in close proximity of other sources may cause instances where a source may be compromised, because of the direct versus indirect sound.

The filtering that arises when a signal is added to itself after having been delayed in time is called a comb filter. The resulting frequency response resembles a comb, hence the name. 

Comb filtering is rarely intentional, but it is heard all the time in sound productions, where it can arise both acoustically and electrically.

In other words, direct sound along with unwanted reflected source sound may be entering the same microphone at different times. For this delay to not affect the sound field at the microphone position, the reflection must be attenuated by at least 10 dB (reduced to one-third) and preferably 15 dB (one-fifth).

This situation can be a daunting task regarding individual control over the elements of the production and cause havoc for the engineer and an unintelligible experience for the congregation.

To avoid comb filtering when placing microphones, the distance to neighboring microphones should be at least three times longer than the distance of the source to the primary microphone. It also helps if the microphones are directional and pointing in opposite directions.

In this case, designing for what you wish to reject from the microphone perspective would be a better approach. Using directional microphones would allow the engineer more level control over the sources. A microphone polar plot can give you a glance at where the rejection angle points are strongest.

Knowing the dynamic style of your musicians and the radiation pattern of their instrument is also vital in helping you properly mic their instruments.

Getting great sound is the primary objective. These suggestions are meant to be a good starting point.

Remember; a confident performer will always sound better!

In a church, it’s all about information. We can close our eyes and get the information we need just from the sound, and that is why accuracy is key.

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