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January 7, 2020

Greg Wells using a mono drum kit mic




In this excerpt from Start to Finish with Greg Wells, Episode 5, Recording the Drums,” Greg demonstrates a technique he learned from producer/engineer Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Smash Mouth, Maroon 5, Slash and many others). It involves using a mono kit mic to supplement whatever your standard drum-miking setup is. It’s not a room mic, but more of a close mic that, when properly processed and blended in with the other mics, adds depth to the entire drum sound.

Greg's drum-miking lineup for “Lucky Number” includes a mono kit mic that adds depth the drum mix.


Greg is using a Neumann U47, a large-diaphragm tube condenser, for the mono kit mic, but says any mic with a big sound will do. If you have a tube mic, that would be a good choice, but any decent large-diaphragm condenser should suffice.

The placement is critical. Greg sets the mic to its cardioid pattern, so it picks up the primarily in front of the capsule. He puts it at a right angle to the top of the kick drum and angles it over the back edge of the drum so that its capsule is pointing at the beater. (This positioning is based on using a side-address mic, which is best for this purpose because you can keep it out of the drummer’s way more than a front address mic that would have to be pointing straight down at the beater.)

He says that he compresses the track heavily and boosts its low end at somewhere between 80Hz and 100Hz on during the recording. For this particular track the input was compressed with a hardware LA-2A. Greg says he’ll often squash it more during the mix. He suggests compressors (or their plug-in equivalents) such as a UREI 1176, an Empirical Labs Distressor, or a Teletronix LA-2A.

Compressors that excel at heavy compression, such as the UAD Empirical Labs Distressor plug-in, work well for squashing the mono kit mic.

Sure enough, he adds a UAD LA-2A for the mix, and he’s boosting the lows again, as well, using a UAD Pultec EQP-1a that's boosting 32dB at 60Hz.

He makes an interesting point about mono mics on drums, saying that unlike stereo mics, they never sound too “washy,” even when you turn them up loud in the mix. They stay focused on the source at which they’re aimed.


He starts by playing the mono-kit-mic track recorded during the session for “Lucky Number.” He says that on its own, this track will not sound good. It’s designed to be blended in with the kit.

He initially plays the track soloed, with the plug-ins bypassed. Not surprisingly, based on where he placed the mic on the kit, you not only hear the kick but quite a bit of snare. The toms also came through pretty well. The cymbal bleed was relatively mild, which is good, considering how much he compressed the track during the tracking and will be additionally squashing it during the mix.

He then plays it soloed again, but with the plug-ins turned on, which gives the sound additional intensity and punch. Finally, he plays all the drum tracks, but starts with the mono kit mic turned off. He brings it up slowly during playback, and you hear how much bigger and punchier it makes the whole kit sound.

Greg says this technique creates a signature Eric Valentine-type sound. He explains how Valentine has a major interest in the low end of the frequency spectrum. Valentine even named his company Undertone Audio. Undertones are the subharmonics below the fundamental frequency of a note.


The Eric Valentine trick used by Greg is quite effective. But what if you weren’t involved in the recording, only the mixing, and you don’t have that mono kit mic to use to beef up the drums?

There are many ways to accomplish a bottom boost. They may not be precisely like the one Wells used, but you can certainly add more low-end depth and punch.

One way to go is just by using an equalizer. A Pultec EQP-1A emulation plug-in is excellent for this (although you could certainly use a different EQ and still get results). With the EQP-1A, you can add heft to the kick by boosting at 100Hz by about 3dB or 4dB, either on the kick track or the drum bus. Another way is to setup the EQ in parallel on an aux track, in which case you can turn the boost up way more because you’ll only be adding some of it to the original track. That setup also gives you the ability to send different amounts from different drums.

Ex 1a: A multitrack drum part without any boost.

Ex 1b: Here, a Waves PuigTec EQP-1A was applied to the close-miked drum tracks (kick, snare and toms) from an aux track.

The settings used on the EQP-1A in example 1b.

If you’re looking for some serious low end, you could use a subharmonic synthesizer, such as UAD’s BX Subsynth or Waves Submarine, to name a couple.

Ex 2a: A multitrack drum recording without a subharmonic synth added.

Ex 2b: Waves Submarine was added to the kick and snare using an aux track, along with the UAD Manley Massive Passive EQ plug-in. The Massive Passive boosted at 150, 560 and 1.5kHz.

The settings used for the plug-ins in Example 2b.

Although it’s not a bass boost per se, parallel compression can also help beef up the sound of your drums.

Ex 3a: This is a multitrack drum part with no parallel compression.

Ex. 3b: Parallel compression was added using PSP FETPressor (an 1176 emulation). The differences are subtle, so you might want also to use EQ to fatten it up more.

Fig. 5: The settings used for the FETPressor in example 3b.