Posted on 10. Mar, 2016 by Daniel Duskin (Record Producer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer) in RecordingPart of a series on getting a professional snare without samples in the mix.
The professional standard top microphone is the Shure SM57. You can’t go wrong with this mic! If you’re unsure—or don’t have much time—the Shure SM57 should probably be your go-to microphone for most of your recording services. It’s insanely affordable too, so you certainly won’t regret having this mic in your arsenal.
Another great snare mic is the Audix i5. The i5 has some of the characteristics of the SM57, but has a little bit of a more modern, and a broad range sound. I’m such a fan of this mic on the top of the snare that I end up using it probably 60% of the time. The Audix D1 is another good choice. The D1 is also similar to the SM57, but has a little more bite. If you want a BIG classic tone, try a Sennheiser MD421. I’ve been using this mic on the top of the snare more and more. Don’t mistake “classic” as describing something small, because snares recorded with this mic sound HUGE!
If you want to experiment with an increasingly common—yet more complex—technique, you can try taping a small diaphragm condenser to an SM57 or i5.
For this technique you’ll need to make sure that the diaphragms of the two microphones have an equal distance to the snare drum. In the mix, you can blend in the condenser for some added bite and edge—or just leave it muted if it doesn’t work out. If you use this technique, you’ll want to use a condenser with a very low THD and high SPL. Steven Slate’s famous snare libraries we made often utilizing this technique.
For the bottom mic, many recommend using a small diaphragm condenser to pick up all the crispness of those rattling strainers. Feel free to try that technique, but I’m going to recommend exactly the opposite.
Because the sound emitting from the bottom head of the snare is incredibly loud, contains a great deal of moving air, and has very intense high frequencies, small diaphragm condensers will easily distort under there (some of the most unpleasant distortion too)—I don’t know about you, but I like snares that sound big, not broken.
For that bottom mic, I personally recommend using a dynamic microphone with a low THD and a high SPL, preferably with a larger diaphragm—the Sennheiser MD421 with a windscreen is my favorite choice for this task.
Flip the polarity on the bottom mic while recording, then blend it in to taste during the mix. Finally, don’t overlook the overhead mic(s)!
The best snare sound usually comes through the overhead mic(s), so make sure you place your overhead(s) where they pick up the snare well. Choosing darker overhead mics—such as ribbons—will lightly subdue the cymbals, bringing more focus to the snare. Another reason the overheads can give you your ideal snare sound is because the microphone is far enough away to pick up more of the total drum, and how it sounds in the room it’s recorded in.
The better you can get the snare to sound in the overheads, the better snare sound you will get in the mix.