Recording a snare tone you’re proud of starts way before actually recording anything. The snare has to sound great in the actual room you’re using as the recording space. Otherwise, you will be chasing your tail and wasting time.
Tinkering with instruments to get them sounding good enough to record can be a very tedious and slow process. Especially when you’re dealing with drums.
Here’s some tips to help you get the tone you want out of the snare quickly so you can start recording as fast as possible.
First, if you want to record a great snare tone, you have to use a snare that has a great tone. This might be obvious, but too often people employ the flawed logic that they can use some EQ to make the snare sound exactly how they want at some later point. It has to sound great at the source-before any recording happens.
Once you’ve got your hands on a great sounding snare drum, you’ve got to spend a little time getting it properly in tune. Knowledge of tuning drums isn’t strictly the responsibility of the drummer. If you’re in any part responsible for recording a great sounding snare drum, then you need to know how to tune one.
Need to brush up on your drum tuning skills? Check out this post I put together for that The Secret To Recording Great Drum Tones
Now that you’ve taken measures to get the snare drum itself sounding great, you need to find the best place in the recording space to set it up for recording. Spend some time hitting the drum in different places around the room, listening for the sweet spot that accentuates the best characteristics of the tone.
After the snare is tuned up and the sweet spot has been determined, it’s time to mic it up. Many people will use two mics to record the snare, but I prefer the simplicity of one. Two mics complicate things with potential phase and polarity issues, and in my opinion does not contribute to the sound in any monumental way. Simple always wins.
The typical approach is to use the tried and true SM57, placing it at the 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock positions on the snare (from a right-handed drummer’s perspective). If possible, I really like the 9 o’clock position, as it usually positions the microphone underneath the hi-hat, and places the mic’s null point such that it maximizes the rejection of the hi-hats, which are commonly too noisy (IMO).
From here there are a few options you should experiment with to get the best tone for your particular situation. I usually position the mic between 2 and 4 inches from the snare drum head. I’ll angle the mic at roughly a 45 degree angle, but make minor adjustments depending on what I feel the sound needs and how the drummer is playing. Small adjustments to the position of the microphone go a really long way.
Many of the attributes of what makes up a great sound are subjective qualities. Making music is an art form, and recording is an extension of this art form. Sometimes, what is perceived as a “great sound” is such a matter of opinion that it’s hard to have any real concrete rules to follow.
Since there’s so much opinion when it comes to “the rules of recording,” your frame of reference in most situations should be context-what artistic statement are you making with your music and your band’s identity? For example, a “boxy, 80s sounding snare” requires a vastly different tuning than an “arena rock sounding snare.” What sounds perfect in one situation, would sound terrible in another.
When dialing up the drums to sound great on your next recording, think about the artistic statement you’re making with your music and your band’s musical identity. Now go track some drums…