Ask 10 different sound engineers the best way to capture a drum kit in stereo, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Drum kits, above any other section of a standard rock band can be the most difficult to capture: first up there’s tuning, playing and the environment you’re recording in, and that’s before you consider the bleed and subsequent phase relationship between eight or more microphones.
But it wasn’t always this way. Before unlimited tracks and entirely overdubbed performances, engineers and producers had to be economical with their mic techniques. Glyn Johns’ work with Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles (although additional mics can be seen in Abbey Road studio sessions), The Eagles and many, many more gave us a simple-yet-great-sounding way of capturing the whole kit, with an even balance and practically foolproof phase coherency.
However, as musical and studio polymath, Rick Beato explains in his tutorial above, the technique was actually born by accident after Johns forgot to move a mic back into position while tracking Led Zeppelin’s debut album.
The basic principle consists of three microphones: one on the bass drum, an overhead placed above the centre of the kit and a side mic placed slightly above the floor tom pointing at the snare. The overhead and side mic are positioned an equal distance from the snare drum, keeping the stereo image of the kit intact, while also ensuring that the sound hits both mic capsules at the same time, while the bass drum mic adds the low end of the kick drum. The result is a natural snapshot of the kit with minimal fuss, as long as you get the source sounding great to begin with.
In the video, Rick Beato demonstrates just how you can apply Johns’ famous technique yourself, with the option of adding in a snare mic (something that Johns often records but doesn’t always use). Of course, this being key to the early Zeppelin sound, Beato has placed his mic setup over an appropriately Bonham-style Green Sparkle Ludwig.