I love music and I love mixing live music. I also love grasping ways to improve my technique, my ears and mixes. While at the Willow Arts Conference “Arise” a couple of weeks ago, I encountered something fantastic. It was the drums that I was hearing through the PA. Granted, the Meyer line arrays hanging in the room had something to do with that but I have experienced plenty of performances on all sorts of quality speaker systems and this stood out. The cymbals were smooth, the snare popped, it seemed you could hear every nuance of the kit without any of it being overbearing.
The next day during break-out sessions I ran into Willow’s FOH engineer and complemented him on the quality of his mix. He first humbly thanked me and then proceeded to tell me about his new setup. He had put a single Shure VP88 stereo condenser mic in place of the normal dual overhead drum mic technique. The VP88 is a single source stereo mic. This provides for tremendous stereo imaging and is built with time alignment and phase correction already in place. Shure made this mic for video production, hence the “VP” in the title. It is listed as best for audio for video in the field and studio. A Shure rep there said they were just discovering the fantastic characteristics is brought to the live sound arena.
Here is where it gets good, for me at least. It turns out I already had this mic on my stage! We were currently using the 88 for a stereo reference mic on the front of our stage per the recommendation of our A/V contractor. It was recorded for later mixes of live recordings and more importantly sent into our 11 wireless in ear mixes to keep our worship team from feeling too isolated. Last week I took the two Beyerdynamic Opus 83 mics that had been used as overheads and put them on the front corners of my stage and stuck a boom stand as high as I could get it over my kit and put the VP88 there. The mic is hanging about 3 feet above our drummers head and probably 18 inches in front of him. It is pointed straight down (making sure the L & R are actually pointed L & R), the HPF is on, and the M-S medium setting is used. It comes with a Y-splitter XLR cable labled for L-R or M-S usage. The EQ is flat with a HPF at about 180 Hz. Also based on reccomendation, I set the compression for both channels of the VP88 at 10:1.
We had great results as soon as we got the console reconfigured with the new setup. As soon as rehearsal started we knew we were going to love this setup. After our first services with it in place I have no regrets. I still need to do some work with the Opus 88s on the stage but the drums sound fantastic. I highly recommend looking into a single source stereo mic over your drums even if its not the VP88. A Rode NT4 would sound great as well, I am sure.