No other drum sound conveys as much character to a rock song as the snare (although the kick is a close second). Recording a snare drum is not hard, but getting the right sound is a challenge that might take longer than expected. Here are some tips that can help you get the snare tone you are looking for:
1. When using the classic mix of top + bottom mics, place them at the same distance from the skins and reverse the bottom mic’s phase. The bottom snare should just be loud enough to define the top snare’s “hit” with some bright overtones.
2. The sound of the close-miked snare by itself is rather disappointing, but add the room mics or a digital reverb to it, and you suddenly get some “explosive” qualities. Avoid rooms too big and reverbs too long, and try a short pre-delay (a gap between the hit and when the reverb is heard) in the reverb settings.
3. Performance fluctuations often cause the snare to sound inconsistent, which is exactly how you DON’T want the snare to sound. Digital editing of late or early hits and weak or too strong hits can do a lot in that department, and a compressor at 4:1 ratio or more can fix the rest of the volume variations.
4. If the snare doesn’t “pop” enough, try a transient shaper plug-in (Dominion is excellent and works miracles).
5. In loud songs, the Hit Hat is the snare’s worst enemy, in particular if the drummer hits it too hard. This is why it’s important to place the top snare mic facing the opposite side of the hi hat, so that it picks up the least amount of its sound as possible (see picture). If the hat comes through the snare track too much during mixing, it’s a good idea to gate the track so that the hat hits in between snare ones get muted.
6. Phase interaction is the most important factor in getting a great drum sound. The more mics that you use when recording drums the more phase problems you’ll get at the mixing stage. Muting or gating tracks that aren’t playing when the snare hits (toms, hi-hats, crashes) is crucial. Also, try shifting the overheads wave files so that the snare hits are aligned with those in close-miked tracks for a tighter sound.
7. Extra compression and EQ of the entire stereo drum sound at the bus level also improves the snare sound. Google “NYC Bus Compression Trick” for more info.