For the best snare drum sound, using a properly tuned and professional drum kit is paramount. Whether the band is Death Metal From Saskatoon or The Polka Pals ‘n’ Gals, the drums will be the backbone of the recording.
Start with a dynamic mic, as it can handle the high transient levels of the snare drum and a solid, stable mic stand. Position the mic off-axis with the rest of the drums to minimize leakage. Aim the mic directly at the point of impact – where the tip of the stick makes contact with the drum. Look down the barrel and line up the placement.
Of course, place the mic where the player can’t accidentally whack it. Expecting a drummer not to hit a poorly placed mic is like asking a record producer not to order sushi; sooner or later, it’s going to happen. It’s your fault if the drummer hits the mic with the drumstick, not his.
For more crack, maybe place a second mic with a different quality, such as a crisper high end, alongside the first. Keep these two mic capsules as close together as possible because two mics on any one source can create phasing issues. Perhaps add a third (switched out-of-phase) mic underneath the drum aimed up at the snares. Get the best sound using mic choice, placement, and level before reaching for the equalizer.
If possible, record the individual snare drum tracks on your digital recorder, and analyze the sound waves. Work on moving the mics around so, when recorded, all the drums are in total phase. Good luck!
Tim Crich is a recording engineer/writer living in Vancouver. His credits include The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, KISS, and lots more. Watch for Tim Crich’s Assistant Engineers Handbook 2nd Edition coming soon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.aehandbook.com.