Recording Overheads

The overhead cymbals provide the crisp, high frequencies heard in a drum kit. The overhead microphones themselves are generally used to pick up the cymbals, but also provide balance and an overall stereo image for the drum kit.

Microphone Type

  • Two small diaphragm, condenser, microphones
    • Polar response: Cardioid
    • Example: AKG 451, Shure SM 81

Technique

Position the overhead microphones as a spaced pair directly over the kit at a distance of about 30cm from the highest cymbal. It is important to think of the stereo image of the kit whilst doing this, keeping in mind that the standard panning set-up for most rock and pop songs is as follows:

  • Kick - Centre
  • Snare - Centre
  • Hi hats - Left and right
  • Cymbals - Left and right
  • Toms - Left and right

In order to gain the best accurate representation of this, one mike should be place further back than the other.

The microphones should be placed about 2-3 meters apart to gain adequate width and achieve a balanced sound. The overheads help with the ambient sound by picking up some of the overall acoustics of the room. A drum miked up close usually does not sound very realistic because a close mike picks up mostly impact, and not the body of the drum. The overheads help alleviate this problem.

Top Tips

  • To add more width, pull the microphones further apart, but be careful not to do this too far as the sound will become ‘lost’ in the mix
  • Having the drummer play the cymbals more softly allows for more of the other drums to leak into the overhead microphones, which can help the drums sound fatter
  • If phasing occurs in the overheads, bring the microphones closer to the cymbals to help eliminate the problem
  • Choosing microphones with low frequency roll-off will help reject unwanted bass sound
  • Coincident pair of microphones instead of a spaced pair help achieve a different sound but are also better at preventing phasing problems due to the close proximity of the microphone heads