Glyn Johns is a famous engineer and music producer and notably one of the few people, (after Alan Blumlein), to have an actual mic technique named after him. Johns worked with some of the most adored performers of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. These are just a few of the artists he engineered and the complete list of his collaborations is exhaustive and very impressive. Shay Mitchell and I came across Glyn Johns when researching the recording techniques used originally for our Led Zeppelin Tribute band six track demo project and were really glad we did as we managed to achieve an awesome drum sound using it.
Johns began his career as a junior engineer working for an independent studio in London that recorded a lot of classical symphonic orchestras. It was here that he learned the importance of understanding exactly what the microphone is ‘seeing’. He spent a lot of time studying microphone manuals and memorising the diagrams so that he knew each models pattern. He recounts his mentors advice on mic placement in an interview with Tape Op magazine in 2015: “Listen. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s all common sense.” Mic’ing is common sense. He said, “If you think about it, if you know the pattern of the microphone, what the microphone that you’re using is actually seeing, and then you figure out the distance, you apply the angle of the capsule to the distance away it is, then you’ll know what it’s going to cover.” (Johns, G, 2015)
The Glyn Johns mic methodology seems counter-intuitive as initially the positioning of the mics doesn’t seem to reflect a solid balance of the sound of the kit that will be captured? It does however create an amazing and rich stereo field when it is done correctly and we will explore why. The basic premise of the technique can be seen below:
You will note that this variation involves three mics (two condenser overheads and a kick out), however the technique can also be deployed by using an additional close miced snare which was our choice for the Zed Leppelin recordings (to achieve a little more ‘snap’ to the snare sound). The first overhead is positioned directly above the centre of the snare and is usually set about 2.5 – 3 ‘drumsticks’ high. The second overhead is positioned off to the right (drummers perspective), near the rim of the floor tom and pointing directly at the snares centre. As long as these overheads are equidistant to the snares centre, the actual measurements are not critical and there is many opinions out there as to how far this should be. We found that about 4ft worked well for the kit we used for Zeppelin and I also set up in the same fashion for our recording with The Dagwood Dogs.
This technique is essentially capturing an overall kit sound from the first overhead and then seeing another angle of the kit from the right side near the toms. This is why this method seems like it would be unbalanced, however the key to achieving the balance now enters the technique through panning these mono mics. The first overhead (the mic that is actually ‘overhead’), is now panned 50% to the left (drummers perspective), and the side overhead 100% right. This results in a very wide stereo field and picks up any fills the drummer plays with clarity and a bit more low end.
There are however some cautions needed by using this method. Firstly, phasing between the overheads. As long as care is exercised when placing these mics the same distance from the centre of the snare this is generally avoided. Secondly, there can be an issue around how the cymbals radiate their sound. Usually, most drummers will have a cymbal close to where the side overhead is placed. Obviously, as cymbals generate high frequencies this can see the side overhead picking up too much of this spectrum dependent on the drummers preferred placement. An additional issue concerning the cymbals is that as they are being struck they are swinging up and down. If this movement is happening over the microphones line of sight, different dynamic content (from soft to very loud) is emanated. This can create a feeling of the cymbals moving across the stereo image as the top overhead (panned 50% left), is picking up a steady picture of these high frequencies, whilst the side overhead (panned 100% right), is receiving sound coming in and out dynamically. This is a particular problem if the rim or edge of the cymbal in question is in line with the capsule pointing at the snare. We did not encounter this dilemma in the setup for Zed Leppelin as the side overhead was actually underneath the cymbal rather than looking across its rim, but something to be mindful of in other kit placements when using this technique.
Just like some of the other most amazing developments in drum recording (think gated reverb), this method was actually discovered by accident when Glyn Johns was recording Led Zeppelin. If you are in the studio recording 7 days a week and tracking quality bands, I guess these sorts of techniques are bound to be discovered. Glyn Johns is an amazing talent who appears very unassuming for an engineer/producer with such a heritage. In addition to Johns providing us with some of the most classic and important sounds in Rock history, he also gifted us this micing technique which is simple to set up, with few flaws and delivers a solid rich well defined stereo field for recording your drums.
Title Image courtesy of https://www.moderndrummer.com/article/april-2015-drum-miking-101-part-3-three-mic-setups/ Retrieved 26/11/17
Glyn Johns commentary courtesy of https://tapeop.com/interviews/109/glyn-johns/ Retrieved 26/11/17
McCartney, Johns and Jagger image courtesy of https://tapeop.com/interviews/109/glyn-johns/ Retrieved 26/11/17
John Bonham image courtesy of http://www.vintagedrumforum.com/showthread.php?t=32211&page=2 Retrieved 26/11/17