Snare Micing Techniques
To me, the snare miking is probably the most crucial part of capturing the kit sound. The snare is always going to be the focal point to me of a mix. It's got to be super loud. It's got to be super aggressive. And it has to be processed quite a lot before it sounds good, in like the way that a commercial rock or metal record sounds, so a bit part of recording the snare, for me, is reducing the amount of bleed from the cymbals that comes in, especially from the hi-hats when they're being played open. To start with, we're going to use the industry standard Shure SM57 on the top of the snare, and we're going to record some stuff with that once we get to playing, but then I'm going to switch to my personal favorite mike on snare, which is a Shure Beta 57. That has a hypercardiod polar pattern, if you guys don't know what that is, it basically means that the front side of the pick-up pattern of the mike is more focused, and instead of rejecting sounds behind the microphone, it kind of rejec...
ts sounds that are about 110 degrees off axis, I think. So physically what this means on the kit is I can bring the mike in, instead of coming in underneath the hi-hats, like you sometimes see, but then also getting a whole load of china from that side of the kit, this allows me to position the mike in such a way that it's kind of facing towards Matt, away from the cymbals, but it's also rejecting the sound of the hi-hats, and of the toms, not that toms are normally an issue. The one thing to be aware of is that a hypercardiod pattern on a microphone means it does have a bit of pick up directly at the rear, so it's not really a problem here. This cymbal is way out of the way, but if there was for some reason something really loud behind it, you'd hear it coming back in. For the purposes of drum recording, though, I love hypercardiod mikes. They really help cut down on that bleed, and it means that I can process the snare track so much more to achieve like a really powerful, almost sample-esque sound, without having to reach for samples. Anyway, I think I kind of put the cart before the horse, there, 'cause I think I want to talk primarily about how you mike a snare drum. Sometimes you can get away with just having a mike on the top of the drum, which is going to pick up the attack from the stick hitting the drum. But for the kind of music that we play, we quite often want more presence from the snare wires underneath. So, for that reason, I tend to put a microphone underneath. Down there I have a Sennheiser MD 441, which is another hypercardiod mike. I really like the sound of that microphone underneath the snare, because it is a dynamic microphone but it tends to have a more extended top end response, so it's really good at picking up the kind of articulation of the snare wires, and it's also really fat sounding, and typically that place, if you were to put your ear down there, is not a particularly pleasant place to listen to a drum from. So a slightly fatter microphone tends to be more flattering, and it picks up more of the body of the drum. And compared to maybe just putting another SM57 under the drum, which is fine, but if you compare it to that, I find that that's a far more pleasing sound. Something worth saying is I've come into this session with a lot of my own mikes, and this is something that I really like to do. It's part of what we're talking about, which is being prepared, and being able to walk into an unfamiliar situation and still get results that are going to be really good, and knowing where to put the microphones as well, because you have hands-on experience with the microphones, so I'd say it's very important first of all to get out there and try the industry-standard microphones, like the SM57 on the snare, the D112 on the kick. Get used to how that sounds. Get used to mixing with those sounds, because nobody could ever tell you they're bad microphones. So many amazing-sounding records have been made with those, and when we get to the toms, the 4-21s are kind of the industry standard that we're not using, but once you start to really get to grips with that you can start to specialize and find things that work a little bit better for what you do. They might be really exotic, they might be really simple, but start with the basics, and go from there. Something I'm also going to talk about. We spoke a little bit about the depth of snare drums earlier, but the depth of the drum and also the type of head you're using on the top of the drum is really going to affect what that microphone on top of the drum hears. The difference between this head and a thin, single-ply head is really quite drastic when you put a microphone on it. You hear a lot less of the snare wires coming through, I guess 'cause it's blocked by such a thicker drum head there. So, when you're using a thicker, more durable head like that, it's really important to me to have the bottom miked. A thinner drum, just by virtue of reducing the distance between the snare wires and the microphone, you are going to hear more of it on the top. To me, there's a sweet spot, a really thin drum, you kind of can't control the relative balance of the tone of the drum with the snare wires, and if it's too thick, then the top mike is just really going to sound like a timbale almost. It's not going to have any real bit to it at all. So this snare is 14 by 6, which is, 14 by 6, 14 by 6 1/2, 6 1/2 probably is like the most common snare depth these days. Even up to 7 is really good. To me a 14 by 8 drum, which you do see, generally too deep for what I like. In terms of angle that I'm coming in on the snare drum, you can get very in depth with just perfecting the exact amount of the steepness of the angle coming down on the drum, and kind of where on the head it's pointing, whether it's more in the middle, or further out towards the edge. They are all going to sound really different. And, you know, if you have time to really refine that to get exactly the right tone, you'll find that as you move towards the outside edge of the snare, you hear more of the overtones, and you get a brighter sound but not necessarily more of the stick attack, whereas going more towards the center is going to pick up more of the attack, but be a generally darker sound. As much as you can perfect the sound with that, I know from experience that, you know, sometimes snare mikes have moved pretty drastically on sessions that I've done and I haven't noticed, and after the fact the snare drum still sounds great. I'm not saying that it can't be perfected with placement, but when I'm setting up, I'm thinking more about isolation, the bleed, you know, making sure that the mike is kind of pointing in towards Matt, rather than at the other cymbals. I generally kind of point towards the center of the drum, if not just a little bit closer. Again, that's going to help reduce bleed that's going to come in from the top of the microphone. That to me is the main priority. If I have reduced bleed in the microphone, I can process it so much more to make up for the maybe slightly inadequate sound. I say "inadequate." It can be a very subtle difference anyway. But that really is my priority, and maybe that's an unpopular opinion amongst some engineers, who I know really like to refine the sound by a very precise placement of the microphones, but for the purpose of coming into a studio and just getting a sound going straight away, I know what the microphone should look like for the kind of sound that I like, and especially working with Matt, we've miked his kit every day on the road. Well, you know, our sound guy does that mainly, but we refine all of that together. We've done it thousands of times.
Uh, mid set even.
Yeah, mid set. And, like, I know this drum really well, I know this head really well. I know that that's going to sound good without hearing it, to be honest. But we'll get to hearing the other microphone on the top of that once we get to hearing some sounds.