I have tried not to tell you what to choose so far, and I intend to continue that; however, I believe that there are some striking takeaways from this endeavor we have gone on throughout this book.
First, I think that it is incredibly obvious that tuning your drums is a must. Listening to the un-tuned and the tuned difference is incredible. I know that not everybody is going to be the best at tuning drums, hell I got someone else to do it for the book I am writing, but it is a skill that every Audio engineer (live or recording) needs to be versed in at least marginally.
Second, I think that it is pretty obvious that in a small to medium venue adding more than 7 microphones for a 4-piece, and 8 for a 5-piece, is frankly just a bit absurd. Unless there is a lot of auxiliary percussion that is going to be played, there is really no need for more than that. Sometimes you will want the snare-top/bottom feel for jazz. Sometimes you might want the kick-in/out feel for a rock club. Most of the time though, there is really no need whatsoever.
Third, use your ears. Tune with your ears. Listen with your ears. Listen to the music, don’t just hear it. Feel the sound of the drums, feel the story they are trying to convey, and maybe adjust for that. Don’t try to throw microphones on the stage in an order that resembles what we talked about and call it quits. That is not how you get good music.
Fourth, and I hope this was obvious, I am not the be all end all of microphone packages. Due to obvious constraints (time, money, a global pandemic, etc.) I was unable to get many different microphone comparisons on each element, I was also unable to get a bunch of different microphone configurations on each set. I have done a few different packages for the same number of microphones, but there are a seemingly infinite number of ways to mix and match these packages. You might be mixing a very jazzy group, and want that snare to come through with all the nuance it possibly can, but you only have two cymbals (a ride and a hi-hat) so there is really no need for overheads. In this case a 5 microphone set (kick in, snare top/bottom, rack tom, floor tom) might work just as well or better than any other setup. This leads us right into–
Fifth, please, please, please, take the time to experiment yourself. If you are new and trying to decide how many microphones to buy, many places will let you demo before you purchase. Find a production company and cough up $150 USD or whatever it may be to get a hold of some microphones and a bit of advice. Go to your local music shop, most likely they can help you find microphones to demo/borrow/rent for a day. Even Guitar Center, the big corporate giant in the music world battling with Sweetwater, will often let you demo things. While I hope this list has helped you figure out a rough estimate of what you might need to get, I realize it is not exhaustive and every space is different. All of this has a giant results may vary asterisk after it.
Sixth, listen to other opinions as well. I am not in your space. If you have someone who knows their stuff (and not everybody who claims to speak on this topic does), then listen to them as well. Don’t take my word as gold because this is what I have studied my whole life. Anyone who have studied, lived, and worked this long enough knows that without knowing the space, band, and style of music, it is impossible to definitively tell you exactly what you need. Anyone who says otherwise is straight up lying to your face. We can make recommendations, and we are generally pretty good with that, but I cannot tell you how to position your mics exactly, I change their positioning on a daily based on how the drums sound that day.
Lastly, with all of those asterisks out of the way, I can tell you that if you follow this guide, chose wisely, listen to your drums, space, and gut feelings, you won’t go wrong too badly.