What picture does your mind paint when you read the words ‘professional drums recording’? Most people visualize a studio where a dozen high-tech microphones surround a drum set and adopt complicated techniques for recording.
But what if I told you there’s no need for such fuss when drum “mic-recording”? Today, I’ll be sharing a simple guide on the Glyn Johns method; a minimal approach to drum recording that’s been used by many of music’s greatest.
While combining stereo overheads, room mics, and a mic per each drum seems to be the golden standard for punchy drum audio nowadays, this will put under the spotlight a famous technique that calls for as few as 4 mics to capture big drum sounds. Let’s dive into the Glyn Johns method.
Introducing Glyn Johns
First things first, let’s meet the man behind the idea, Glyn Johns. He’s a renowned English musician, recording engineer, and record producer.
Glyn Johns has worked with a long list of artists that includes some of the biggest names in the business such as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, and The Eagles. Even his starting out work is impressive, kicking off his career with an assisting job for The Beatles.
As you can expect, Glyn Johns has made such a stellar reputation for himself and will forever reserve a spot as a legend in the recording hall of fame with his glorious sounds of John Bonham’s drumming on many Zeppelin records. Want to know the fascinating bit? He only used 4 mics to get it done!
Elements of the Glyn Johns Method
Before going into the details of the Glyn Johns technique, let’s have a quick look at the components it requires to establish. Basically, all you need to use this method is 4 mics arranged as follows:
- 2 overhead mics — big diaphragm condensers, preferably
- 1 kick mic — condenser or dynamic
- 1snare mic — commonly dynamic
The concept here is that you source most of the sound from the overheads, while the microphones at the kick and snare serve as spot mics to boost and enrich these huge kit elements, giving you more material to play and mix with.
At first glance, you may think that this is nothing special, but what you don’t know is that the 2 overhead microphones work together in a very unique way, which is one of the reasons the Glyn Johns method is so intriguing.
Setting Up the Glyn Johns Method
Now that you know what you need and understand the general idea behind the Glyn Johns method, let’s take a look at how you can set it up:
Step 1: Position the First Overhead Mic
The Glyn Johns method starts with you taking one of the overhead microphones and positioning it directly above the middle of the kit or the snare at a distance of around 3 to 4 feet. Place it so it’s pointing down at the drums.
Next, record for a few minutes and listen back to the sound picked up by that one mic. You want to hear complete balance coming from the kit, with a nice mix of toms, snare, and cymbals.
If your recording doesn’t deliver as much of the hi and mid toms as you’d like, try tilting the overhead mic slightly towards the toms. Also, if you feel too much abrasiveness from the cymbals, try moving the microphone a bit upwards.
Step 2: Position the Second Overhead Mic
Once you achieve a good balance using your first microphone alone, you can move on to setting up the second overhead microphone.
Take the #2 overhead mic and position it on the right side of the floor tom above the rim at a distance of about 6 inches. Place it so it’s pointing across the tom in the direction of the hi-hat and snare.
- Notice how this supposedly “overhead” microphone isn’t actually overhead. Instead, it’s more of a side-fill microphone that aims to capture sounds from the kit from another perspective.
Your next mission is to get the second overhead microphone and the first overhead microphone in phase. To do this, you need to check that the grill of the second mic is located as far from the snare’s center as the first mic.
You can ensure this by simply grabbing a mic cable and having someone firmly hold one end of it to the snare’s center while you extend the cable until it reaches the first overhead microphone. Mark the distance then move the cable to the second mic while the other person is still holding his end to the center of the snare. Make sure that mic #2 is lined up with the distance you marked.
If you get this right, listening to the two mics on their own should result in a clear, fully balanced, and punch stereo sound from your drum kit. There should be a crack at the snare’s center, vivid and punchy toms, as well as all-around cymbals.
Step 3: Positions the Kick and Snare Mics
Up to this point, some low-end kick punch and some snare fatness will still be missing. Enter the last two microphones.
Take the kick mic and put it near the resonant head or place it inside the drum. Position it so you receive the fullness necessary to compliment the sound from the first two overhead mics.
As for the snare mic, place it about 2 to 3 inches above the rim and tilt it across the snare. This angle isn’t set in stone, so feel free to experiment with it to get different sounds.
Round out the sound of your kit to suit your taste by adjusting these two microphones.
There you have it, a simple guide to the Glyn Johns method. Remember, even though this technique has certain steps, you don’t have to follow definite rules.
You can use this method as a start then change things up to achieve the sound that you feel is best. Don’t be afraid of experimenting and making mistakes. After all, this very technique was a happy accident!