Tracking drums in a home studio can present quite the challenge, especially if you’re a novice home recording engineer.

It’s difficult, albeit not impossible, to get a studio-quality recording of a live drummer given the limited resources most home studios have. Many home studios use a two or, at most, four-channel interface, which definitely limit an engineer's ability to capture the full sound of a drum set. However, one can still get solid live drum sounds with the right equipment, a good ear, and patience.

There are several ways to record live drums in a home studio, and we’ll explore three of the more common methods: small kit mic set up, mix-down a close-mic set, room mic recording.

A small kit setup.

Method 1: Small kit setup

The first method I like to call a small kit set up. This works generally well with a four- or maybe five-piece kit with a standard crash, ride, hi-hat scenario. If your drummer fancies himself an 80s prog-rock drum virtuoso, you’ll probably miss the dynamic range of his chromatically tuned, eight-octave, 104-piece drum set.

In a small kit set up, you would need an audio interface that can track four mic-level inputs at a time. Place a kick drum mic in the hole in the front head of the kick and an instrument mic close to the top head of the snare. Be sure to place the mic close enough to the head without it touching — and not so close that the drummer hits it with the drumsticks.

For the other two channels, use a pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones in an x-y axis pattern overhead (above the drummer's head pointing at the snare). You should pan these hard right and hard left, but the stereo field will be narrow since the microphone capsules are so close together.

AMS Pro Tip: You’ll capture more of the room’s sound the higher you place your overhead microphones. So play around with position, depending on the sound you are going for.

X-Y microphone setup.

With the kick and the snare each having their own isolated tracks, you can really play with them in the mix. You can adjust not only the individual drum's volume level, but also the EQ. That way, neither instrument interferes with other instruments that share the same frequency pallet.

The overheads will capture your toms and cymbals, (as well as snare and kick), and you can mix the overhead tracks in to smooth out your overall drum mix.

If you have more channels on your interface, you can easily add more mics for each individual drum. You can also do fancy things like mic the top and bottom of the snare and in and out on the kick. There are a lot of compact eight-channel mixers that are popular with home recording enthusiasts.

A close mic setup.

Method 2: Close-mic the set

The second way to record drums in a home studio is to close-mic the set and premix the drums into a stereo two-track mix for recording.

With this set up, you need a mixer with enough channels for each of your drums and a slew of microphones. You’ll close-mic your entire kit and will still want a pair of overhead microphones to capture the cymbals.

It goes without saying that this is a more costly option — as you’ll need a microphone for each drum, all the cabling, and a mixer. However, there are some relatively inexpensive microphone kits available that include almost everything you need for your drums.

And never forget that there is an industry-standard instrument microphone out there that makes a great snare and tom mic, I'm “Shure” of it…

After close-miking your drums and setting up your overheads in an X-Y pattern, you’ll send your stereo mix from the mixer into channels one and two of your interface.

You’ll need to listen to the mix as intently as possible prior to recording your track. Best way is to record a practice take, listen back to the recording, and take notes for eq, panning, and volume adjustments. Make the adjustments and repeat until you’re happy with the track.

Since you’re pre-mixing the drums, you’ll have limited ability to adjust your drum mix during recording, as it will print as an already mixed stereo track. You can raise and lower some key frequencies in your EQ to help bring your kick up, for example, but keep in mind that you’ll be affecting any other drum that shares the frequency you are adjusting. You will not, however, be able to isolate the snare to add effects, adjust its eq, or volume. Your drum sound will depend heavily on any of the adjustments you make prior to recording your track.

A room mic setup.

Method 3: Room mic recording

The third and easiest way to record drums is to use just one room mic.

Place the mic in a part of the room that’s acoustically pleasing (You may have to record some practice tracks and play with the location a bit). A large diaphragm condenser microphone works well in this situation.

As with the previous example, you really only get one shot at your sound when you’re recording your track. You can play with the eq, but for the most part what you pick up in your room mic will be your final track — save for some overall volume tweaks.

However, the room mic is also an excellent secondary drum track for the first two examples, as it allows you to mix in the natural reverb and delay of the room in which you’re recording. Play with it in your mix and see if the room mic gives you some added depth to your drum sound.

Just remember, if you want to use this method make sure you like the sound of the kit in the room. You’re recording the room just as much as the set!

Recording drums might not be easy — but never impossible!

Drums can be tricky to record, especially if you’re looking for control of each individual drum during your mix down. Since that requires a lot of equipment, these three drum-mixing methods, and a little patience, can help propel your home recorded drum sound into a more professional mix.

The key to remember is to have fun and listen for the sound that you like best. Your genre of music may work well with just a room mic, or if you’re a hair band devotee, you may need to premix your full kit so that you can capture the true essence of your six-piece roto-tom solo.

In the end, your ear will help you tell the story of your song. If your drums fit pleasingly into your mix, regardless of method used, then you, my friend, have recorded a successful drum track.

And if you need a little help getting started, call the friendly AMS Customer Service reps at 800-458-4076. They’re all experienced musicians and will happily point you in the right direction to create the drum recording setup of your dreams.