At the last podcast we started going through an input list and picking our favorite mics. Not surprisingly we we spent nearly half the show on just the kick and snare and had to cram the rest in. It made me think it was high time for another post on drum mics and specifically the overheads.
The technique is really pretty simple. Most commonly you'll see a pair of pencil condenser mics in some sort of stereo configuration. You can put them close together in an X-Y setup or space them out, roughly over the high hat and ride cymbals. In either case those are usually hard panned left and right. You can also get away with just one if you're short on inputs, the system is in mono, or maybe you just don't need that much overhead sound to get where you need to go.
Here's the thing about drum overheads. They're often misunderstood as cymbal mics but they're really so much more than that. Sure, on huge setups things can get pretty ridiculous. Big Mic Huges uses six overheads as well as sometimes under micing each cymbal. That puts his drum inputs at a higher count than a lot of peoples' whole shows. Once in a while you might see hat and ride mics in addition to an overhead pair. But like I started out to say, they hear so much of the kit that it's worth really spending some time with them to get the most out of them.
On toms I like to use small gooseneck condensers. They're easy to get on there and they stay out of the way. They also sound bigger than you would think. They capture a wider range of frequencies than a lot of dynamic mics and they even do a pretty good job picking up the cymbals. So I'll tune those up first and then pull the faders back down and go to work on the overheads.
You might need to move them around because there are usually a couple pockets of weirdness that make the cymbals sound odd. What you're compensating for there is comb filtering and it can't be done with EQ, you have to move the mics. So have the drummer do a couple big cymbal crashes to make sure you're not going to overload, then have them get on the toms and see what you can do to sculpt that sound.
You should be able to get a pretty nice, natural sound but one that tends toward the snappy side, with a lot of crack off the top heads. Then you can bring up those close mics to fill things in and you've got a nicely dialed in drum sound and plenty of headroom left. You'll probably need to trim the top snare mic a little because there will be a lot of that in the overheads too.
And that's it. Think of those overheads as a whole kit sound and get them sounding the best you can, then fill in with the close mics. It takes a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to perfect. So get after it Brethren of the Knob and Fader!