In this post, I’m going to show you 5 key factors to getting the best snare drum sound possible. These tips will help you get a great snare drum sound in any recording or live sound situation.
#1 – The Musician
Alright, I know this one is obvious – but I have to mention it. The single most important component of a good snare sound is the musician who is playing the drum.
If you put me behind a drum set, it wouldn’t matter what you did – the recording would sound awful.
The best way to ensure a professional snare drum sound is with a professional drummer.
#2 – The Drum
You also need to pick a snare drum that is appropriate to the music style you’re recording. Each snare drum will have its own unique sonic qualities and the drum head you choose will also affect the sound.
If you want a bright, dull, fat, or thin drum sound, it’s best to choose the appropriate drum for that sound from the beginning.
Not only that, but make sure the drum is properly tuned. Ernesto Doural Jr. has a great video on how to tune a snare drum on his channel – check out that video below.
#3 – The Microphone
Much like the snare drum itself, the microphone you choose will have a unique character that will have an impact on the sound of your recording.
If you haven’t read my post on frequency response, check it out here. It will help you to understand the importance of microphone selection.
The industry standard for snare drums in live sound and studio recording is the Shure SM57. It’s got a relatively neutral sound so if you want to capture a snare as it is, you’ll be safe choosing an SM57 in almost every situation.
But let’s say you want to alter the sound of the snare drum with your microphone choice.
On the flip side, you might have a snare drum that is a bit too bright sounding already. In that case, you could use a darker-sounding microphone like the Telefunken M81 that will help to tame some of the high frequencies, while still capturing the full-bodied low-mids of the snare drum.
These are just a few microphone choices – but there are thousands of options out there. Here are a few more of my favorite microphones for micing snare drum:
#4 – The Placement
Depending on the polar pattern of your microphone and its response to the proximity effect, you’ll get different sounds depending on how you place the mic on the snare drum.
When it comes to micing a snare drum, I like to start by placing it about an inch above the rim, pointed toward the center of the drum head. Keep in mind that you’ll need to work around the other components of the drum kit and keep your mic out of the drummer’s way.
As you move the mic closer to the drum, it gets a bit darker due to the proximity effect – but it also helps maximize the signal to noise ratio, making the snare drum louder in comparison to surrounding instruments.
You’ll notice that the sound gets a bit brighter as you point it more toward the edge of the drum head, emphasizing the overtones. Angling the mic toward the center of the drum head will give you a slightly darker sound with emphasized attack.
If you hear ringing overtones, either tune the drum to eliminate the ringing or move the microphone outside the boundaries of the rim.
You can also experiment with using two mics on the snare – one on top, one on bottom. The bottom mic will capture the bright buzzing sounds of the snares themselves.
If you choose to mic the top and the bottom of the snare, consider the possibility of phase cancellation. As the top head moves away from the top mic, the bottom head moves toward the bottom mic – this could potentially create conflicting signals when the mics are mixed together.
For this reason, I like to experiment with inverting the polarity on one mic within my DAW until I find the configuration that sounds best.
#5 – The Room (or Reverb)
The final key to getting the perfect snare drum sound is the room and ambiance. These close mic techniques will give us a very close, dry sounding snare but depending on the context of your recording, you may want a snare sound that is more open and realistic.
If you’ve got access to a professional studio, you might be recording in a large live room that has a beautiful, natural reverb. In that case, you could use a room mic or a pair of room mics placed a few feet away from the drum kit in addition to the close mics on the snare drum.
That way, you will get the body and attack of the drum with the close mics and the ambiance of the room with the room mics.
However, many of us will just be recording in a small room in our own house. In this case, you might get better results by sending the close mics to a reverb plugin in your DAW. That way, you can experiment with the length and the quality of the reverb after the fact.
Plus, if you’re recording a drum kit, you’ll probably already have overhead microphones set up. These mics will add some bit of ambiance to the overall drum recording, and you should aim to mic your snare drum in a way that works well when mixed together with the overhead mics.