Is a Bottom Snare Mic Really Worth It?
Posted on May 21, 2023
I’ve been doing some recording, so you know what that means: time to rethink part of my recording setup. Last time, I talked a lot about cymbal bleed, but lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my bottom snare mic.
I actually started this journey thinking about the kick drum. I feel like my kick drum tone is lacking — I have a tried and true Beta 52a in the port hole, but listening to the mic in isolation makes me want a fuller sound on the kick.
My solution is to stick a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) in front of the kick’s reso head. Again, just like last time, I’ve run out of inputs. Well, I’ve run out of preamps to be more specific.
The interface I use has eight preamps, and I typically have all of them occupied, but there are two that are a bit superfluous. I have one preamp reserved for my auxiliary snare; I don’t it use very often but I don’t want to sacrifice it nonetheless. That brings me to the two mics I have on my snare.
Back in college, when I miked my drums up for the first time, I thought a bottom snare mic would add more body and depth to the snare. But a bottom snare mic only really does one thing: pick up the snare wires. And if you listen to a bottom snare mic in isolation, it sounds… bad:
When the top and bottom mics are at unity on the faders, the snare has a nasty, abrasive sound. Listen to some 4/4 bars of snare hits with the bottom mic muted and then unmuted:
If I’m doing the mixing, my usual approach is to pull the bottom mic fader all the way down, then mix it back in until it’s just barely audible. Here’s the same demo from above, but with the bottom mic at -15dB:
It makes me wonder… what’s the point? Why bother using a mic if it sounds bad on its own and can only be mixed well when it’s barely audible?
I guess I liked having specific control over the snare wire sound, but it’s a subtle difference even when it’s balanced well in a full mix. While little touches are often what makes a great recording, I’m not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to preamps, so I need to think hard and decide if a bottom snare mic is worth it since I only have eight.
I was prepared to say the sacrifice was acceptable as I waited to hear what a LDC microphone offers when I stick one in front of the kick:
And… it’s another subtle difference. Much subtler than I was expecting. But to be clear, it sounds much better on its own, and it adds considerable oomph to the kick tone.
Another thing I could consider is picking up a boundary mic and throwing it inside my kick. The only problem is that boundary mics aren’t exactly cheap, but what’s worse is that they’re rather niche. Aside from a kick drum, boundary mics in a studio only seem to get used on a piano lid, so it’s a steep investment for something I can’t really use on another instrument if I don’t like how it works on my kick (I guess I could start by renting one...).
Somewhere on the internet, I saw a question asking why engineers don’t bother with miking the bottom heads of toms. The general consensus was that your microphone and preamp requirements can quickly get out of hand all for an effect that won’t contribute much to the sound of the kit.
Perhaps snares are thought to be the exception since you’ve got wires rattling on the reso head. But if you want a stronger snare wire sound, consider tightening your snares, or maybe using a strand with more wires.
Eventually, I’ll get some more preamps; I’m still interested in close–miking my hats to drown out the bleed into the snare mic, and I might need to consider future proofing my setup in case I ever add another floor tom (after running out of cymbals to cram into the kit).
Ideally, I would like to buy the fewest number I need, but I think with just four more preamps I could be set to have close cymbals mics, two mics on my main snare, and room for a second floor tom. But until then, does my snare bottom mic have to go?
I don’t know if I want to nix the ability to add more cut to my snare — while the bottom mic doesn’t offer much to a solo kit, it could continue to be valuable in a full mix. Same for the LDC I put on the kick.
So what can I do? Well… there’s another mic I hardly use: my auxiliary snare.
This topic probably deserves its own post, since everyone seems to have two snare drums these days, but there are not many moments where a second snare is used to great effect. And I’m just as guilty here since I barely even use mine, let alone use it effectively. So until the hardware gets upgraded, I think the aux. snare will be sidelined.