Many factors affect the sound produced from a snare. The positioning of the mic, the distance of the mic from the drum shell, the proximity of the mic to the head, and even the angle of incidence can all affect the sound.
There are many ways to mic a snare, so getting a great live sound from your snares can be a daunting task. How you choose to do it, the mics you select, and how you place them can be determined by several factors.
The type of snare is a significant factor to consider because different sounds can be produced from each class. For instance, a 14” aluminum drum delivers different sounds from a 12” maple snare. Some produce deep sound while others produce sharp sound.
Your mic set up will either mitigate or highlight the sound depending on the genre of music. Jazz, for instance, requires a smooth, laid-back sound. On the other hand, most mainstream music requires powerful beats.
Lastly, the sound produced will depend on the drummer. Some will have controlled hits of the snare. Others will attempt to crack the snare with every hit.
Here are a few tips you can follow to get the desired sound.
1. Type of Mic
The snare is a pretty loud instrument. As such, the best mic to use is dynamic. The reason for this is that dynamic mics have better SPL handling capacity. The mics can handle the sound without distortion.
Some engineers might argue that mics not sold as snare mics may produce exquisite sounds. However, matching the mic to the snare produces a cleaner sound. Again, fixing mics with EQ or plug-ins may shift the phase.
Remember, the snare is an instrument of time, and the phase affects time. Once you add plug-ins to the chain, the phase will change. This will mess with the sound. Additionally, it will make it much trickier to sync the snare to the rest of the drum kit.
2. Mic Placement
The position of the microphone can be limited by the amount of space available between the drums. Therefore, it is crucial to get the mic in the right place. You can choose to either have only one microphone at the top or have two mics, one for the top and one for the bottom.
With the mic placed above the snare and close to the center of the head, it produces a sound that is low, dark, and less snare-like. As you move away from the rim, the sound becomes balanced between the snares and the head.
For the right balance, place the dynamic mic 1.5 inches above the head, 2 inches inside the rim of the snare, and at a 25 degrees inclination directed to the center of the head. If you desire a low-end sound, move the mic from the center of the head.
3. Use Two Mics
Most engineers might be reluctant to have two mics, one over and one under. However, this arrangement produces a brilliant sound. A little of the rattling sound of the wires at the bottom, which gives the drums its name, can add taste to the dominant sound from the top. A frequency of 80/20 for over/under works as a perfect balance.
The mic used under can either be balanced or bright. To get better sound, the polarity of the under mic should be reserved relative to the one at the top. The effect of this is that the sound will cause the diaphragms to move in opposite directions. This results in uniform polarity when hitting the snare. Otherwise, the signals will cancel out when combined.
4. Mounting the Mic
There are different set-ups when it comes to mounting your mics. You can either use a mic-clip or a stand. The set-up you choose depends on the position in which you want to put your microphone. A mic stand allows you to have a little bit of distance because of its separate set of equipment. If you want the microphone closer, you can use a clip and attach it right into the rim of the snare.
Experimentation is the key to getting the sound you want. Remember, the sound will vary depending on the type of mic and type of drum. Therefore, there isn't a magic placement.
If you’re not happy with the sound produced from the initial position, change the angle and the installation of the mic relative to the head. If different musicians or different genres of music are playing at the same concert, you may have to re-position the mic for different sets.
6. Test It Out
Due to the pressure levels produced at the snares, you can have your ear in place of the mic and listen to the sound. The best thing to do is to adjust the mic position and listen to the result. This will show you that moving the microphone by the slightest margins will change the result of the sound.
If you are recording, get your entire set up ready first, as it is unlikely that you are only using the snares. Set up the instruments first, and then have your mic equipment. Tune the snare and make some sample recordings. Listen to the recordings and make any adjustments that you think are necessary.
As earlier stated, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to micing a snare drum. Some people will have a microphone across the top of the snare. Others will have it pointing towards the rim. Still others will have it at the center. Each position and angle will bring out specific frequencies while de-emphasizing others. The placement should depend on what you want to bring out as well as factors such as the style of music and the type of drums. However, mic placement should be at a place where it isn’t likely to receive hits from the drumsticks.