10 Surprising Ways To Use The SM57 Microphone

'Shure SM57' by Yousef AH (2011), made available under a under a CC license.

'Shure SM57' by Yousef AH (2011), made available under a under a CC license.

The almighty and classic SM57. It’s truly a studio workhorse and I’m always surprised to find out what new amazing sounds you can achieve with it. Here’s a list of some of the more unique ways of using the microphone, combined with some of the classic uses for all the music makers out there! You don’t have to break the bank to make great recordings and the SM57 is an amazing starting point for any music producer or engineer working with musicians.

1. Electric Guitar Amps

This one is a no-brainer. It’s the classic electric guitar sound. It’s important to experiment with the angle of the microphone related to the speaker. Get to know your amp's tone well and find the sweet spot for placing the SM57 - you’ll slowly find that you can anticipate what each new amp will sound like coupled with the placement of your SM57. Place it perpendicular to the cone for a bright sharp tone, angle the mic slowly to thicken and warm up the tone.

2. Snare Drum

I used to have a lot of trouble with just an SM57 on a snare drum - it always felt like my recordings sounded like a live gig sound. The key is to reject the hi-hat as much as possible by pointing the back of the microphone directly towards the center of the hi-hat. Experiment with the height of the microphone relative to the top of the snare drum and you’ll find the beautiful, resonant sweet spot for each snare drum. Get a good mic stand so you can trust that your placements will stay tight throughout a long and loud session.

3. Snare bottom

It’s so important to capture the snare bottom when you’re trying to achieve a fairly clear and refined drum sound. A great starting point is to mirror the height, distance, and angle you found worked for the top snare mic. REMEMBER that you will need to flip the phase to get the two mics to work together! And hey, grab a seat beside the snare and make sure the snare bottom mic is actually pointing towards the snare chain, that way you can maximize the rattle and control it during the mix.

4. Demo-Vocals

Doing a quick acoustic and vocal scratch track? Use the SM57. It’s simple and effortless and will keep the creative flow moving.

5. Live Sessions

Whenever tracking a live band session with a singer in a nearby room, it’s very important to use a uni-directional mic to avoid bleed from the other band members. The SM57 is GREAT for this purpose. Point the back end of the mic towards the drums or whoever in the band is making the most noise - trust me, you’ll be much happier during the mix!

6. Trumpet

For some reason, no matter what I record a trumpet with, it always ends up sounding pretty good. It’s important to understand the style you’re trying to achieve and what microphones will help you get there. The SM57 is great for really capturing that South American or Southern States “bandito” trumpet sound. It’s tight, controlled, & fairly bright. In general, I’m usually tracking trumpet in the context of a horn trio, in which case the fact that the SM57 is so unidirectional really plays to your advantage as well.

Quick side note: I really do love ribbon microphones on trumpet, but an SM57 works really well in the right context!

7. Piano (Upright)

I’ll never forget walking into a session a couple years back with Jerry Ordonez at Sonic Ranch. We had to set up a fairly “classic” piano sound. He asked me to set it up for him, so I scoured the studio for the most expensive microphones. I came back in the control room and said: “Man I’m not sure we have the right microphones, should I go rent something?” He grabbed a pair of SM57’s and laughed telling me that they were his top choice. The sound is classic. I would describe it as “hard” - meaning great midrange with a surprisingly full picture. You don’t need the expensive mics to get an expensive sound! 

8. Acoustic Guitars

The right acoustic guitar in the right situation can be magic with an SM57. In a folk or rock setting, you can really capture a warm and full sound that you would never imagine from this unimpressive-looking microphone.

9. Kick Drum

The SM57 can be amazing on kick drum in the right context. If you don’t need a ton of bottom, or if you’re using it in conjunction with a sub kick you can really get a great sound. Forget the rules when recording and try microphones on everything to see where they sound best for your situation.

10. As a Hammer (don’t try this at home)

Sometimes in a session, you’re working fast and you have to make poor decisions. I would lie if I said I haven’t used an SM57 to hammer in a nail or do some kind of odd job. I don’t recommend it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Libby Donnelly