Drum Recording: The Glyn Johns Method

Four Mics, Huge Sound

Woman Playing Drums
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As we've talked about before, recording drum is no easy matter -- in fact, recording drums can be the biggest pain in your you-know-what, especially if you're just starting out with limited resources.

A few years ago, a good friend and fellow engineer (not to mention a top-notch drummer), Colin Anderson, introduced me to this technique: four microphones, placed strategically, can give a spectacular sound while recording drums. It’s called the Glyn Johns method, and it's a favorite of recording engineers everywhere trying to get professional results on a tight budget -- meaning few options for microphones.

That's great, but who's Glyn Johns and why should I trust him?

Simply put, Glyn Johns is a master recording engineer. Born in England in 1942, Mr. Johns has recorded just about everybody of importance during the 1960s through the late 1980s -- we're talking Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Steve Miller, and The Eagles, just to name a few -- pretty amazing resume, wouldn't you agree?

The Glyn Johns Technique: Step 1

The first step to getting the Johns method to work correctly is -- surprise, surprise -- getting a drummer with a finely-tuned kit.

Since you're not close-micing all of the drums, you'll have fewer chances to compress, EQ, and overdub the individual drum tracks to within an inch of their life to get the sound you need.

Step 2: Microphone Selection

Now, you'll select your microphones. Mr. Johns' technique involves only four microphones -- a kick mic, a snare mic, and two overhead microphones.

A really high-quality kick and snare mic are a must in any microphone arsenal. I find that the AKG D112 never lets me down for kick, and on a budget, the Shure Beta 57 (or regular ol' SM57) do great for a snare. My preferred snare microphone, if you can afford it (and find one), is the Beyerdynamic M201.

The Johns Method depends on the quality of the overhead microphones. That being said, microphones that are "too bright" aren't good for this technique, and mics that are very accurate are also a potential problem.

My usual choice for mics for the Johns Method on overheads are ribbon microphones -- even the less-expensive Nady or Cascade microphones will work well, with some EQ. However, my favorite overheads for this technique are the Heil PR-30.

It's up to you and your budget what you go with, but spending a little extra money to get great microphones will help you later on when recording just about everything else.

Step 3: Position Your Overheads

In order to position your overhead microphones, you'll need one very important piece of equipment: a tape measure.

In order for this method to work, you have to be very careful about phase. Keeping your overhead mics in phase is the ticket to a great drum sound -- otherwise, they'll sound washy and off-balance.

Starting with one overhead mic, position it 40 inches from dead-center of the snare drum, facing directly downward to where the kick drum pedal is located.

Now, take your second overhead microphone. This microphone will be positioned to the drummer's right-hand side, with the microphone diaphragm pointing towards the high-hat, over the tops of the floor tom and snare drum. Confused? Basically, the microphone will be positioned facing the drummer on his right side -- easy as that!

Take the tape measure, and position the microphone's diaphragm exactly 40 inches from the center of the snare.

Now, you're ready for your spot mics!

Step 4: Position Your Spot Mics

Mr. Johns' Method only uses two spot mics -- one kick drum mic, one snare mic. Micing those drums is fairly easy -- if you don't know your favorite position, check out this tutorial right here at About.com on proper drum micing!

Step 5: Panning In The Mix

Panning the microphones in your mix once you've recorded is what makes the Glyn Johns Method work perfectly.

Pan your kick and snare mics to the center, as you'd do on any recording. Then, take your overhead mics, and pan the one above the snare halfway to the right -- this gives it a little balance, without taking it too far to the right (and, if you did this, would create an illusion of snare sound coming heavily from the right).

Next, pan your other overhead mic -- the one near the floor tom -- to the far left. This gives a depth and stereo image to the overall kit.

One favorite variation of this tip is to use tube microphones -- if you position a great large-diaphragm tube microphone over the ride and floor tom, along one tube mic as an overhead above the whole kit, favoring the snare, you'll get a nice, rounded image; this is great for softer rock or blues.

Using this technique, you'll find that you get an open, natural drum sound, but having a great drummer (with a high-quality kit and great technique) is an absolute must, as are high-quality microphones!