1) Adding More Snares to Snare Drums
If you’re presented with an “inherited recording” to mix (one you didn’t engineer) with live drums where no bottom mic was used on the snare drum, or the track sheet says “snare” but all you’ve got to work with is a dull thump, try this: Route an aux send bus output from your mixing console to a small powered loudspeaker (or, if you have an extra power amp, a regular small passive loudspeaker) you’ve placed out in the studio room or vocal booth.
I’ve done this, putting my small, powered 5-inch Yamaha loudspeaker right on top of a decent sounding snare drum sitting on its stand.
Use a spacer so the loudspeaker itself does not dampen the snare drum head too much.
I used the plastic protective ring from a two-inch reel of tape for a spacer, strapping it and the loudspeaker down to the drum’s shell with gaffer’s tape.
Then I put my favorite bottom snare drum mic on the bottom, and brought it up in the mix on another mic input fader.
While sending on the aux send bus from the original snare track, slowly add in the bottom mic. I sometimes “hard gate” the aux send signal to the loudspeaker if leakage causes too much snare buzzing in between snare hits.
Also be sure to do equalization, and also try flipping phase—one way will sound better than another, and you shouldn’t need much of this to “vibe up” that dull snare.
2) Recording Sympathetic Vibrations
The strings inside a piano can be energized with a loudspeaker as well.
Use non-residue tape to clamp down the piano keys in the key of the song. I usually hold down all the octaves of the key of the song, but you can experiment with forming chords too.
You also need to put something heavy on the sustain pedal to keep the damper off the strings.
If you place the loudspeaker (or attached it) underneath the piano right up under the soundboard, you’ll hear it vibrating the harp and strings.
I usually send the bass, guitars and keyboard tracks, but try sending only vocals for a very interesting vocal effect.
Of course, you’ll want to place a couple of microphones over the harp on the other side of the soundboard and add them to the mix as a stereo pair.
3) Adding Unique Room Ambience
Another trick is to place the loudspeaker out in a room and pick up it’s sound with a mic—a basic echo chamber.
Some mixers routinely set up two loudspeakers with a stereo send and stereo mics just to add more “room” to sounds that are too dry or were recorded direct.
If it’s a good sounding room, this is a winner.