When it comes to micing a snare drum, the SM57 has pretty much dominated for the best part of 50 years. The SM57 adds just the right amount of low-end weight, while also adding presence and ‘crack’ to the drum. For this reason, the 57 is a go-to mic and has featured on countless records throughout music’s history.
Having a great sound, timeless design, and being built to last helped secure the SM57’s reputation, but it’s also essential to have the right mic technique for the best results.
Snare Drum Mic Technique
Micing a snare drum requires balancing between tone, isolation, and the practicality of how drummers play. The following guidelines will get you started:
In order to capture the complete snare sound, place the mic a good 4 inches away from the snare to ensure you capture the whole drum sound. Placing the mic too close will only capture the skin and will leave you with a dull, uninspiring tone. Distance will provide greater depth, but it’s also worth considering the proximity effect as you move the microphone further away. (Proximity Effect is an increase in low-frequency response when a sound source is close to the microphone)
2. Keep safe from stick hits
The SM57’s black swivel windscreen was never designed to be hit with drum sticks. Keeping your distance from the drum will avoid damage, but if this becomes a problem the newer beta57a features a hardened grill for peace of mind. The super-cardioid polar pattern also helps with greater isolation from other parts of the drum kit. Alternatively, you can protect your existing sm57 with a crash guard – Primacoustic makes one, which also helps to reduce spill.
All engineers have strong preferences when it comes to microphone position, and the snare is no exception. As a general rule of thumb, placing the mic above the snare will capture the ‘crack’, while placing beneath will give you more ‘fizz’. Additionally, you can try placing it to the side for more ‘beef’. The most common method is to mic from the top; however some engineers will mic top and bottom for a balance between ‘crack’ and ‘fizz’. If you do choose this method, be sure to experiment with the phase button on your mixer or pre-amp. The phase relationship between top and bottom is invariably out of phase and inverting this on one channel will usually produce a better result.
4. Tune your drums
Finally, and perhaps most importantly – always tune your drums. The sound you capture can only ever be as good as the original sound source, so it’s important to get this right. Secondly, old drum heads are particularly difficult to tune. Therefore, you may consider changing the drum heads first – particularly when recording.
What Makes the SM57 Standout as the “Go To” Snare Drum Mic?
In the following video, recording engineer and producer Ron Nevison (Bad Company, Led Zeppelin and The Who) describes why the SM57 has endured such a sustained success throughout music history. In his words “The SM57 was almost made for snare drums.”