Recording Drums: Glyn Johns Method

SamRecording

The kitchen sink approach is one that rarely works when it comes to recording. For the right records (metal/fusion etc…) close microphones and as many room mics as possible is great, but pretty often scaling back is what is really needed.

When recording drums there is a couple of options to capture a great kit in a killer room without putting close mics on the toms, hi hat snare et… perhaps the most famous method is the Glyn Johns method.

Glyn Johns Method

Glyn Johns worked with everyone – The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who…  and is famous not only for the records that he helped create, but also a method for recording drums using essentially 2 mics, plus some support from a couple of close ones, but the sound is definitely based around a overhead directly above the snare & another over the drummers shoulder on the floor tom side.

The first overhead (large diaphragm condensor or ribbon) should be 3 or 4 feet, directly above the middle of the middle of the snare. Put this up, and start monitoring the mic to see how the kit is balanced & move up/down to fine tune the balance of cymbals etc…

Next, put a 2nd large diaphragm or ribbon mic just to outside of the floor tom. This mic should be exactly the same distance away from the middle of the snare as the other overhead is, so get a mic cable, hold it against the middle of the snare and check the distances and move accordingly. By getting this right the two mics should be in phase with the snare, making sure it stays focused & strong, now pan the two overheads, and with any luck the drum sound should be full, and take advantage of the natural room sound, and have a full snare & tom sound, with balanced cymbals – it is worth pointing out that when tracking, make sure the drummer isn’t hitting the cymbals too hard in contrast to the rest of the kit…

This is essence is all thats to it, but by adding 2 more mics you can add even more power to the snare & some low end weight to the kick. For the kick – try putting either a large diaphragm condensor or dynamic mic about a 1 or 2 feet above the ground, angled at the kick & again make sure it is equidistant from the middle of the snare. For the close mic on the snare a dynamic on the top or bottom skin (remember to invert the polarity if you go under the snare!!) around an inch or two from the edge of the skin, like you would on a multi-mic drum set up. Now mix in to taste…

I have use this method alot over the last few years, on all kinds of projects, and it is still amazing how focused and balanced a kit can appear, and how much flexiblity the additional 2 close mics can add – try automating the snare mic in for light verses, and then take it out for louder chorus’s for a slight change in tonal clour.