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The Backbeat Goes On: Microphones & Techniques For Snare Drum
A few easy rules are helpful, along with some simple tools
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Microphone angle and distance make a difference.

Too close and the snare sounds more like a tom as proximity effect emphasizes the drum’s tone.

Too far and isolation is lost as other drums and cymbals are heard clearly in the snare channel and sent to any effects employed.

The rule of thumb is two fingers between microphone and head.

An angle helps the microphone hear the buzz of the snare strainer from below when protruding slightly over the rim.

Old-timers swear if you position the microphone correctly on a welltuned head, catching the strainer from below with a second microphone isn’t necessary.

WHAT’S ON SECOND?

That said, secondary snare input channels are those used with—as well as those used instead of—the main snare microphone. The time-honored “snare under” microphone is frequently chosen as a condenser or a bright dynamic to better catch the snap and crackle of the strainer, though it’s equally common to simply use the same model as the main microphone.

Reversing the polarity of the “under” microphone combines it in-phase with the primary microphone, which hears the drum from the opposite direction,

Another alternate snare input is the “side-stick,” commonly used for ballads, jazz or Latin music, where the drummer lays the stick across the head and lifts it to strike the rim on the right side, The sound is different enough that a second input is often needed to correctly EQ and add the right reverb effect.

The position for this alternate input is at one o’clock instead of ten o’clock, and is dictated by the practicality of getting a microphone in close where the stick strikes the rim. It’s not necessary to get the
microphone over the head and successful positions include some beside the shell.

Side-address capsules allow the microphone to sneak up beside the snare from a number of angles because its vertical body more easily fits between the snare and the rest of the kit.

DPA 4090 (click to enlarge)

Miniature microphones or lavaliers are often used for this application so they don’t interfere with drumming, but they must be properly shock-mounted from the drum. Some mic the snare shell if it’s wooden or the top if it’s metal, while others prefer the sound of mic’ing the air hole.

Brushes also require a different microphone and a condenser helps to bring out their subtleties without resorting to drastic EQ.

The use of an alternate microphone and channel allows entirely different EQ, dynamics and effects to be used by simply changing channels.

There are countless schemes for using multiple snare microphones with different effects, depending on the music, and it’s not unusual for there to be several dedicated snare effects, some driven from a different microphones.

I’ve also seen engineers simply Y-split the same microphone to two channels to achieve this. In smaller venues, where the drum kit and especially the snare - seems too loud, the best use of a snare microphone is mostly as an effect send, due to the amount of snare getting in other microphones.


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