BY JON “BERMUDA” SCHWARTZ | FROM THE FALL 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
We like to think that if our drums sound good to our ears, they’ll also sound good when miked up and run through a PA system. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and it’s important to understand why.
Believe it or not, mikes don’t hear the drums the way we do when sitting behind the kit. Wall surfaces, ceiling height, room size, floor material, and a raised floor or concrete slab all contribute to the overall sound. Also, our ears are two feet away from the snare and tom batters, while mikes are placed a few inches from the heads (and often inside the bass drum) and aren’t affected by the acoustic factors that shape what our ears hear.
That means the drummer really doesn’t know what his or her kit sounds like to the microphones. And what that means is the drummer must rely on the person running the sound to make the kit sound its best, which often includes suggestions on muffling and, possibly, tuning.
For example, you may have a wide-open bass drum that sounds fantastic in your practice room, but the sound engineer says it needs some damping because it rings too much. If that’s the case, listen to them, and tape a paper towel to the front head! Don’t argue, and don’t tell them they don’t know how to mike a bass drum. They hear your drums in the house with the room’s acoustics — the way the audience will hear them — and they truly have the final word on your sound.
The same applies to snares and toms. If the engineer suggests a little damping on the snare, or tuning a tom up or down a bit, just do it. Unless you tune and play those drums with your ear two inches from the head — and I’m not recommending it — you really have no idea how they sound through the mike.
Why don’t sound engineers just use an overhead to capture what your ears hear? Because that mike would pick up too many other sounds from the stage, and not offer any control or real benefit to the drum sound.
So trust the sound person to make decisions that will help your kit sound great, and you’ll sound great, too.