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Ok so clearly not everyone reading this has a poor snare sound, on their kit or in their recording/live setups. However with just a few simple processes you can be a master of the studio with your snares.

 

Firstly I need to clarify that I am really talking about snares that are being captured by spot (close) mics. Usually we are looking at a top skin mic Shure SM57, other dynamic mics can be equally appropriate for the snare also. The AKG D190 is a beast of a mic and there are also plenty of others that work a treat...even an SM58 with the grill removed. The mic usually shoots across the top of the skin at an oblique angle, but there are methods and modified mics that allow the diaphragm to be positioned parallel to the drum skin if desired. We will often use a bottom mic and sometimes side mics that record the sound around the shell area. (Whether the shell is producing the sound is debatable).

 

So what do we need to ensure to make sure we have a kick ass snare sound? 2 Things:

 

1.Tune Your Snare

You need to tune your drum – I advise use of the Tune-bot. An electronic drum tuner that analyses the change in fundamental frequency produced by hitting the drum head. If you hit around the rim each lug can be brought as close as possible to the correct pitch.

Alternatively if you have a fancy Yamaha or Arbiter Flats single lug ring tuning system you need only alter the one tuning lug. These are fantastic tools but do rule out the possibility of tuning the skin asymmetrically which is another method..see this video.

 

 

You may want to tune your snare as tight as the proverbial duck's bottom. Yes it sounds great in the context of certain genres but if you are after a fatter snare sound with less skin sound stepping on the snare rattle/snap frequencies try a lower tuning. It might be harder to play with the reduced rebound but there will be a higher proportion of lower harmonics and the fundamental will be lower so you will get a more low mid orientated sound and the snares will snap through a little more.

 

Ok so your snare is in tune and you are not using any damping gels/gaffer tape yet. Here comes the real secret to a belting snare.

 

2. Move The Hi-Hat

Thats right hi-hat spill is probably the number one snare sonic killer. It destroys the possibility of anything more than a gentle EQ treatment and forces us to gate or expand the snare top mic.

 

The Inverse Square Law

When applied to audio we see a quartering in sound pressure level as we double our distance from the sound source, that's an attenuation of 6dB.....really so a whisper 3 inches from our ear is four times the volume of one 6 inches away? Well yes but we hear exponentially so it doesn't quite seem this way. However this does make a hell of a difference when gating.

Let us now consider an ergonomically set up drum kit, hats only 4 inches above the snare mic. Almost as close in fact as the centre of the snare is to the mic. The centre of the snare has the most deflection of the skin for the lowest fundamental frequency when hit centrally. Hence moves the most air. Ok now lets raise the hats to 8 inches away form the snare mic....wow we just quartered our spill (6dB attenuation). Effectively quadrupling our signal to noise in terms of the Snare:Hats ratio.

 What does this mean? Well it means we can now compress our snare as mentioned in the previous blog post and/or we can push the snare to an unnatural but 'hypereal' level. Let's remember cymbals are generally too loud and mostly hit too hard by drummers. So the less spill the more punchy we can make the sound of the drums.

For rock, metal and pop drumming I would recommend using the heaviest hats you can get your hands on. If you have a remote hat setup that would be ideal. This is where a cable is used to control the opening/closing of the hats. The pedal still sits in the normal place but the hi-hats can be relocated to above the kick drum etc. Hats are rarely played at the same time as toms so proximity is not such an issue. We can gate this manually (with editing) or automatically with a higher threshold or EQ'ed sidechain. This position also allows the drummer to play in an open position which is arguably much better for endurance and posture as well as ergonomics.

 

Alternatively we can move the hats up to a much higher level and shift them towards the outside of the kit as in this video.

 

These two methods put the hi-hat to snare mic distance at somewhere over 16 inches a whopping 4 times our original distance. We just cut down our hat spill by a factor of 16! Yes the intensity of the hat spill is 16 times lower (12dB attenuation). I'll say that again in one more way....the snare track just got 16 times cleaner and more hefty.

 

So next time you start to wonder why your snare sound sucks as either a drummer or an engineer...just remember the inverse square law.

 

Also watch this week's vlog here:

 

 

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