When I first tried placing a speaker on top of a snare drum in order to “re-amp” snare tracks, I was skeptical. I’m mean, seriously, this looks nuts. But it worked. In the end I was able to save my mixing client hundreds of dollars in studio cost and traveling expenses just to re-track the drums that were originally recorded. In this episode, I give you step-by-step instructions on how to re-amp snare drums. It’s one of my best tricks and you’ll hear in this episode that to re-amp snare drum tracks can transform the sound of the drum tracks, and improve the perceived production quality of the entire recording.
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Why a Snare Drum is So Important
Most will judge the quality of the recording by production quality of the drums. If the drums sound bad, then a listener will assume that it’s a poor quality recording. This is in part because the drums occupy so many frequencies, and is incredibly dynamic. Right in the middle of the human ears most sensitive hearing is the sounds made by a snare drum. If you think of why a 57 is so popular, one factor could be that it produces a lot of mid range. If the mid range is accounted for, then the other frequencies, hi and low, are just supplementing what we hear in the mid range. What’s more is that we often will use an SM57 on the snare drum, making it that much more a mid range type of sound.
The wire snares of the drum are unique to snare drums. No other drum has a fundamental tone that is low like other drums (about a 3rd to 5th above a high tom) but also is able to produce high frequencies too. These high frequencies are far more complex than lower vibrations that are created by toms and the kick drum…One more point for why snares can be so important. (The complexity of high frequencies and their harmonic structure is also why cheep cymbals can be difficult to record over say a jazz style cymbal with a smokey and complex sound)
You have the low frequencies from the kick on one end, and the hi frequencies from the hi hat on the other. Bridging between these two elements is the snare drum.
The Kick-Snare-Hi Hat Relationship
Ok, this is a big one. You have the low frequencies from the kick on one end, and the hi frequencies from the hi hat on the other. Bridging between these two elements is the snare drum. Most drummers could play entire gigs with just these three pieces of gear, as grooves only need kick, snare and hats. I often will refer to this as the “Holy Trinity of Groove”, and there’s a reason that these elements fit so nicely together. The snare.
In the low frequencies of the snare drum, there is some body to the sound. Some lower fundamental tones that are low like a tom. I seem to remember that orchestral players will tune their snare to a B, but how high the drum is tuned for drum set players is very subjective. The lower the drum the better it can blend with the kick and become related (in a groove kind of way) to the kick.
The high frequencies of the snare drum are pretty bright depending on where you are listening to the drums. In a small club that has seating, you’ll hear more “snare” than if your standing and listening to a band in a run down dive bar. But none the less, these snares will create a nice bridge to the sound that the hi hat are creating. Selection of hi hats for this often helps, and a little slosh in the hi hats is better over hi hats that are very clean and crisp. You’ll need to pay careful attention to the tension of the snares…you want to emulate the sound and sustain of the hi hat. The speed of the song will come into play too for making this decision.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Yep, bridge the snare to the hi hats and now you have all three “essential groove elements” sonically glued together. This is why (I believe) that you’re seeing more and more 15 inch hi hats and lower tuned snare drums (Steve Jordan). It keeps the three elements sounding like they go together.
This is why fixing the snare drum is so important. It’s a daisy chain of events that lead to improving the drum sound, and in turn improving the sound of the overall recording.
Demo music is “The King” by Vessel221
How to Re-amp Snare Tracks
- Start by selecting a nice sounding snare drum. The one I used was a 6.5 inch deep Ludwig Supraphonic Super Sensitive. Make sure your happy with it. Does it seem right for the song. If so, it’ll be a good drum to re-amp snare through.
- Select your speaker to re-amp snare. You’ll want to find a speaker that is a 12 or a 15. The standard size of snare drums is 14 inches.
- Mount the speakers that you going to use to re-amp snare on a light baffle or wood mounts. You want the speaker to rest of the baffle, and this baffle to support the speaker on the rim of the drum when you re-amp snare.
- Set up the amp. You want a clean amp with lots of headroom. Retaining the punch of the original snare track when you re-amp snare, as your going to use that original snare track (the bad sounding one) to vibrate the drum.
- Play the soled snare track into the speaker and listen to how the drum reacts to the vibrations that your playing into it. It’s really pretty weird to have a drum creating sounds on it’s own. This is the time to adjust the tension of the snares. You’ll find that because the drum isn’t getting slammed by a real drummer, the snares will need to be a bit looser than normal in order to replicate a normal snare sustain. Use your ears.
- Add a gate to the original snare track. You may have noticed that the original snare track had a little of other drums in the track such as kick drum, or toms. Use a gate to try to get the other elements out, because they will be creating snare buzz in the new re-amp snare track. Remember that this gate is all about the punch, so don’t worry about how it sounds at this point.
- Set up your microphones. Watch the video for this to see and hear how this works. In short for this example, I used an under side snare microphone, a room microphone and a top microphone. The top microphone sums together with the under snare microphone and you can get some nice fullness out of the drum. (see video)
- Record! Remember that when you re-amp snare you’re not just recording the parts where the snare drum is hit, but you want to record the entire track. You don’t want edits cutting in and out, unless your M.O. is to turn off individual drum mics when a drum isn’t being hit.