5 Steps To A Great Snare Sound
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
What do producers and drummers have in common? We all LOVE a big, fat snare recording. A great snare sound really shapes a recording and a full mix in general so it's vital that we know what to do to achieve it.
As an audio engineer, I've recorded many kits in the past of all different shapes and sizes. I have learnt how to get a snare to sound great, I've made mistakes and learnt from them too. Now I want to share with you the only 5 tips you'll ever need for getting a snare tone you can only dream of.
1) Use Fresh Snare Heads
It's pretty much common sense that if something sounds shit at the source, it's not going to sound any better through a mic. Similarly to a guitarist changing strings, I believe a drummer should change heads at the start of recording any new project for a client.
You may think: "why should I spend my money on replacing something that isn't broken?" Well, both worn skin coating and dents can compromise the sound it produces meaning that it will not sound the best it can.
When your snare has fresh heads, this is going to be at the point where it will sound its best. If you aren't changing your heads across the kit for each new client's recording, you aren't delivering the best quality that you possibly can.
If you're just jamming at home or recording demos obviously you don't need to keep changing your heads and I know it's not always financially viable to be taking out a loan just to buy new drum heads every day. As long as you know that changing them will help you achieve a better sound for recording.
2) Snare Tuning
All drummers are different, some like to crank their snare very high whereas some like their snare tuned low (like me). Either way you need to ensure that your snare (and the rest of the kit) is perfectly tuned before recording.
This goes back to my point again about getting the right sound at the source before recording. No amount of editing or mixing is going to fix a badly tuned drum so it's vital you get it right before hitting that red button!
It can be effective also to tune your snare to the key of the song you are working on so it sits nicely in a mix. Tuning to a root note or a fifth can sound great, however some people do prefer to keep their snare tuning the same once they've found their sweet spot.
Below is a link to one of the best tuning videos I've come across on youtube, very thorough and easy to follow:
Our mate Gideon at Drum Helper has done some reviews and recommendations of the best drum tuners to purchase. If you need one go check it out here: https://drumhelper.com/accessories/best-drum-tuner/
3) Choice Of Microphone
Once you have a nicely tuned snare with a fresh head, the next step to making sure it sounds awesome is down to which mic you choose to record it with. The best type of mic to use on a snare would be a directional dynamic microphone.
A mic with a cardioid pickup pattern would be best suited for a snare to minimise leakage from the other drums and cymbals. Condenser mics have more high frequency response which isn't really necessary when recording a snare, a dynamic mic will produce more than enough HF that's necessary.
The most widely used microphone for recording a snare is a Shure SM57, which isn't anything fancy but does the job perfectly. Other mic's that sound great on snares include the Neumann KM184, Audix i5 and Sennheiser MD421.
4) Use 2 Microphones
If you don't already use 2 microphones on your snare, this will be an absolute game changer for you. This setup consists of one mic on the top of the snare and one mic underneath pointing at the bottom skin. The benefit of this additional mic is more brightness and snap.
This extra mic really thickens up your snare sound and gives you more to play with when it comes to mixing. As you are capturing snare wires directly this gives you a lot of high frequency content, for this reason you could use a condenser mic on the bottom.
5) Mic Placement
Depending on where you point your snare mic at the top head, you will capture a different sound. Pointing your mic closer to snare skin will minimise bleed but as a result the lower frequencies will be exaggerated. This will give you a much darker less 'open' sound.
If you want to emphasise the overtones in your recording, this can be achieved by angling the mic down towards the edge of the snare. Alternatively, the further towards the centre of the snare you move the mic, the more 'attack' you will get.
For a dryer sound with less of the 'ring' you will need to move the mic outside of the rim. For the bottom mic, simply point a mic towards the snare wires about 2-5cm from them.
Article written by Eddie at The Professional Musician Academy
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