How to Mic a Snare Drum

Last Updated on February 2, 2023 by Danny

For a quality hip-hop snare recording, picking the proper Snare Drum mic is key, but where you place it matters just as much. Placing an inch closer or farther away could drastically change your results. Distance from the shell, head and angle of incidence (pointing across or down) all play a role in the snare’s sound. To guarantee you capture best hip-hop sound from your drum, here are some tips on How to Mic a Snare Drum.

How to Mic a Snare Drum

Getting the Mic in the right place

Placement of the microphone often depends on how much space is available in between the drums, so getting it right is critical. Some sound engineers prefer to just mic up the top drumhead, while others opt for both the upper and lower heads. When you move the mic closer towards the centre of the drum head, you will get a darker more full sound with less snare resonance. Moving away from the center however increases balance between the head and snares, providing a brighter hip-hop style tone.

Generally, I begin by setting a dynamic microphone about 1.5 inches over the drum’s head, at 2″ from its circumference and pointing downwards at around 25 degrees from the horizontal plane of the head; this is pointed straight towards the centre. To reduce bass levels, I move the microphone farther away from either the centre or overall drum itself – lessening proximity effect.

Using two mics on a snare drum 

Many sound engineers will use two microphones when recording a snare drum – placing one on top and the other underneath. The bottom mic captures the actual snares and rattling wires that give the drum its distinctive sound, adding bite and brightness to the overall effect. This is done in ratios of 80/20 (top/bottom), but can be adjusted according to preference. For under-snare mics, Audio-Technica’s AT4033CL is great, as well as Telefunken’s M81SH and Shure’s SM57 – though it should be added in moderation for best results. In this example, I blended it with the over-snare microphone at 5dB below it. This hip-hop inspired technique is perfect for adding depth and texture to your mix.

If you are recording hip-hop with an under-snare mic, it is essential to reverse the polarity of the microphone in comparison to the top snare mic. This will create a uniform output when the drummer strikes the drum. To maintain clarity and prevent any bleed from other drums or kick, you can also gate the signal of the under-snare mic so that it only amplifies during initial strikes.

Experiment with sound

Finding the right sound for a drum mic can take some experimentation. It’s all about finding the best position and angle of the mic relative to the head, which may be different from one drummer to another. If you’re in the studio with an artist who likes to use different snare drums, you may need to adjust your setup accordingly. You might even switch microphones if necessary. I’ve gone from using my favorite dynamic microphone to a condenser model when transitioning between rock and jazz styles. Ultimately, it’s important to do whatever it takes to get that perfect hip-hop sound!

Hear the sound

When it comes to instruments, you can typically audition what the microphone would hear by simply placing your ear near where the mic is located. However, it’s not wise to do so with the snare drum due to its high sound pressure levels. As a result, engineers must make adjustments in order to find the optimal position of the mic and then assess the result by listening. This is especially true when they are recording hip-hop music, as capturing distinct snare sounds is crucial for creating dynamic beats.

Height of the mic

The height of the mic relative to the snare head has a major influence on the audio. Take a listen to these samples, in this case four identical Shure SM57 mics were positioned as depicted in the picture. The elevation moved from 1″ over the head to 2″, then 3″ and 4″. You can notice how the fundamental and overtones change as you raise the mic further away from the drum head. All four sound clips originate from one take and were captured at once. The actual fundamental note will become quieter or softer, as demonstrated in these recordings.

Keep all the mics in the same vertical plane

Positioning the microphone in relation to the center of the drumhead has an impact on the sound, regardless of how all the mics are positioned in a vertical plane (equal distance off the head). To demonstrate this, four hip-hop samples were created using 57s that were each positioned 1 inch above the head but at varying distances from the center of the drum, ranging from being even with the rim to 3 inches inside it.

In conclusion, hip-hop engineers must spend time experimenting with mics and placement to find the best sound for their recordings. They should consider factors such as microphone type, polarity settings, height of the mic relative to the drum head, and position in relation to the center of the drumhead. With patience and practice, hip-hop producers can achieve the perfect hip-hop sound.

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