Mixing drums in mono is not the norm today. For nowadays we are pretty much used to everything stereo. Or at least everything that’s possible to be rendered in stereo. We almost automatically go for it, especially when it comes to drums. Put a mic or two on every drum and pan it wide so every drums has a distinct place from left to right in the stereo image. Why do we do that? Because we like width and 3D. But isn’t it like a drug? In a sense, it is. Or it’s like watching movies all the time, instead of reading a book every now and then.
Our mind, our perception works kind of similar when listening to stereo sounds all the time – it leaves less of that imagination factor, that special something that our mind tends to add to the music. If you get sick of being spoon-fed with stereo drums all the time, by all means, please go for mono! It’s fun, and you’ll end up having more space to use in the stereo field, while losing none of the power and details associated with stereo drums. Well, at least if they are recorded and mixed right.
Mono is not an enemy
Let’s take this Bob Marley & the Wailers song for example, off of their album “Catch a Fire”. Listen to how there’s a lot of space to fill playfully with all kinds of instruments around the centered drum track: we have multiple skanking electric guitars, a Hammond B3 organ, a Fender Rhodes electric piano, or Peter Tosh‘s distorted guitar solo. While the drums themselves are not too prominent on this track, they serve the purpose of laying down the groove perfectly, without ever losing focus off their rhythmical role; the big kick drum and the intricate hi-hat come through perfectly. Even the snappy snare can be felt on every “one drop”.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Concrete Jungle”
For a more modern example, here’s a tune by the glam rock/hair metal band of the 2000s, The Darkness. The hard left and right were needed for those big jangly/throaty rhythm guitars, so the drums went mono and into the center. Listen how the punchy fills have all the power they need, but during the choruses, the drums go in the background. There’s simply not enough room for them, especially against the important, falsetto laden lead vocals of Justin Hawkins.
The Darkness – “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”
Simple and effective drum sound
Now if you want to hear a very simple approach on mono drums that works great, check out the U2 tracks produced by this guy called Flood (Mark Ellis). He has learned this trick from old Beatles studio photos: he uses one mic on the kick drum (the usual AKG D12 or a Neumann U47 condenser), a one mic on the snare (usually an SM57), and a single SM58 for overhead, sitting just above and slightly in front of the kit. It works perfectly, with lots of natural sounding “punch”, especially since he likes to compress the living snot out of that single overhead mic, bringing up the room sound and the excitement this way. And if you don’t have enough room sound, just add some room reverb to that one mic, and enjoy.
U2 – “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”
And if we mentioned the Beatles above, here’s a tune from them as well, using the same powerful recording technique of monaural drums. At the same time, the track’s an early, great example of a stereo mix. It worked pretty good even back in the 60s:
The Beatles – “A Day In The Life”