I just finished reading SOS January 2015’s ‘Session Notes’ column and noticed that Mike Senior used two mics to capture the snare. Normally you would use one on top and the other underneath, but in this instance both mics were used on top. I assume the dynamic is to capture the ‘meat’ and the condenser is for the ‘snap’. This makes sense to me but I’ve never heard of this technique before — is it commonly used?
SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: Although multi-miking the top of a snare drum isn’t perhaps the most common approach, it’s by no means unheard of, and has apparently been used on a number of very high-profile albums. For example, Butch Vig set up both a Shure SM57 and an AKG C451 when miking up the top of Dave Grohl’s snare for Nirvana’s Nevermind; Dave Eringa mentioned using an identical setup for the Manic Street Preachers’ only number-one album This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours; and Jim Scott combined a Shure SM57 with a Neumann KM84 for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication. (To read more about those sessions, check out our producer interviews in the March 1997, April 1999, and December 1999 issues of SOS, all of which are freely available to read in the magazine’s online articles archive.)
You’re right in surmising that the reason I chose to combine two close-mics was that I wanted the option to blend their different tonal characteristics during the session. In general, I much prefer to put together an ensemble sound by tinkering with mic positions and balances, rather than by dialling in processing, mainly because I tend to get the results I’m after quickest that way — and speed is a crucial factor on the kind of ‘smash and grab’ full-band location session I wrote about in that article. I’m far from the only one who eschews an under-snare mic. John Leckie, Elliot Scheiner, and Alan Parsons, for example, have all expressed reservations about it themselves. For my part, I rarely feel the need for extra level out of the snare wires, probably because I usually use a lot of overheads signal in my mixes and deliberately don’t put the overhead or over-snare mics too close, both of which tactics usually help the snare rattle come across fairly naturally without additional help.