Take three or four microphones, add a little knowledge and get a spectacular drum recording! Glyn Johns created his own distinctive drum miking technique that played a role in shaping the sounds of (nearly) countless bands and artists. And what’s great about his drum recording technique is that it’s quick and easy!
Glyn Johns is a recording artist who has worked with such names as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eagles and Bob Dylan. Johns developed his own unique approach to the recording of drums, which is now simply known as the “Glyn Johns Method”, characterised by an unusual overhead and side microphone technique.
This method uses only three or four microphones for capturing the full drum kit. It is actually possible to get away with only using two but let’s not push it, eh!
To start, grab a bass drum microphone and place it a foot away from the resonance head of the bass drum. We are big fans of the Sontronics DM-1b but feel free to use what ever you have in the bag.
If you’re going to go with the four mic method, use another dynamic microphone a few inches above the snare drum head. When it comes to choosing a snare mic, we’re not short of options, but you can’t go too far wrong with the studio staple that is the Shure SM57.
Close mics on the kick and snare, all well and good, but now the real magic starts…
The next two mics are used as overhead microphones. The first of these should be about 40″ over the snare and it should capture the full sound of the drum kit.
The second overhead isn’t really on overhead at all but the idea is the same. Place it to the right of the floor tom, about 6 inches above the floor tom head and pointed directly at the snare drum. Consider it a side-fill mic that gives you a different kit sound.
In order to ensure that your snare remains as full and punchy as it sounds in the room, make sure that the two overhead mics are the same distance from the centre of the snare; a measuring tape is your friend, but – as Glyn explains in the video – eyeballing it is fine! When it comes yo choosing microphones, large diaphragm condensers are probably the order of the day, but you could experiment with ribbon microphones as well.
You now have two overhead microphones that capture the full drum kit and you have control over the kick and snare. When mixing, bring in the overheads, mix those for the best blend, and then add in the kick and snare for filling out the mix as needed.
We’ve covered the mics, but what about plugging them in? As he describes in the video, Glyn liked to record the drums quite hot – dialling in a bit more gain at the mic pre, and pulling the fader down a bit to compensate.
This technique might not be the textbook way to organise your gain staging, but does give you a bit of preamp distortion up front and if it’s good enough for some of of the greatest records ever…
How does it sound? If you search your favourite online videos site for ‘Glyn Johns Technique’, you will find plenty of examples. With the ones we’ve listened to, such as the example below, you’ll hopefully agree that a good kit, played well in a good room can sound great, with enough low end, sparkle and stereo width to create a compelling drum sound; and all without having to go out and buy dozens of mics, stands, cables…