Sharp Attack and Complex Decay: Understanding The Basics of Snare Drum Miking

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  • August 24, 2016
best snare mic

Snare drums are crucial in reflecting the character of a song. This is because there are so many varieties in terms of size, depth and material of manufacture, with each of these attributes offering subtle nuances in frequency response and tone. The presentation of a snare in recorded form throughout history has been endlessly fascinating and varied, and as you can imagine the list of methods is too deep to catalogue in any one article. Understanding the basics is important though, so we had a look at some of our favourite technique and microphone combos.
 

recording snare

The snare’s place in the frequency spectrum parks it front and centre in a recording, making snare drum miking a crucial element of the recording process. Here we take a looks at some of our favourite technique and microphone combos.

The snare occupies a great deal of the crucial mid-range in the frequency spectrum, thus it is foremost in the attention of the listener. Most listeners will pick up pretty subtle differences tone, so it’s important to get the tuning right before hitting record.

Most drummers will be have their favourite method of tuning out rings and resonances, including bits of gaff and other dampening methods. Gaffing the life out of the drum head will not make a great snare sound though, so it’s best to use sparingly, if it all. Drums resonate ‘in sympathy’, so tuning the snare and toms (if they are being used) so they work together, is quite important.

Miking up the snare is often guided by the physical dimensions of the kit – getting in close is often unavoidable. The snare envelope is extreme: with a harsh attack and complex decay, depending on the depth of the drum. The qualities of the Shure SM57 have made it a favourite for decades, with its mid range punch and sub-200hZ rolloff.

best snare micFor a more detailed picture of the top end, the Audio-Technica ATM450 is a neat choice. It features a bottom end rolloff switch and 10dB pad, but the most handy trait perhaps is the side-address configuration which makes it even easier to capture detailed attacks on the head of the snare – especially pleasing with lighter sticks or brushes.

Miking up underneath the snare encourages slightly more experimental approaches to mic choice and treatment. The snare wires are located underneath the drum, so the sound is far more severe. Small diaphragm condensers like the Rode NT5 have a subtle boost at approximately 5-10khZ, which can maximise the toppy intensity of the drum’s rattling underbelly. It’s doubtful there are many situations where this could be the main snare sound, but if blended with top-of-the-snare tone, the capacity to capture a unique overall presence can be enhanced.

The snare has long been the backbone of rock and pop music and as such, it is been afforded a great deal of respect in the audio community. This drum is full of personality: an inspired and considered approach to capturing the snare can bring it to life.

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Dan Shaw is recording and mixing engineer at Enmore Audio. He also plays bass in Wells and Circle.

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