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Snaring The Killer Snare Drum Sound

Bring the output of the compressor back into an open channel on the board or to an effects return so that you can mix the processed signal with the unprocessed original (see Fig. 3). With just the right blend, the snare will have more body while still sounding dynamic. Mixing in too much of the compressed signal will defeat the purpose of this technique to preserve the dynamics.

Fig. 3. Signal Flow: Parallel compression

THE KEY TO THE GATE

Most engineers I spoke with shy away from using a gate to clean up the track when trying to achieve an organic-sounding snare drum. But a gate can be a cool tool for creating certain effects. The secret is the key input. Key gating allows you to run one signal through the main I/O of the gate, such as a re-amped snare, while triggering the opening and closing of the gate with another sound source, namely the original snare hit. Blending this triggered sound in with the original signal can help to liven up a sampled drum loop or a dead-sounding snare drum.

To clarify, re-amping a snare drum involves sending the recorded track through a loudspeaker or a guitar amp in a room and miking the amplified sound, or placing the loudspeaker face down on another snare drum and miking it from underneath to capture the buzz of the activated snare wires. Pull the mike back farther into the room for a more diffuse effect. Send the actual recorded snare hits or sampled loop into the key input to trigger the opening of the gate and send the re-amped snare track into the main input of the gate. Run the output of the gate into an open channel on the board. Experiment with attack and release times to get the right sound, and blend the processed sound with the original track for a cool effect.

EQUALIZE IT

Strive to get the snare drum sound you’re after on the front end with tuning, mike placement, and room dynamics, and use equalization sparingly only as necessary to make the snare sound more defined and better balanced in the mix after the fact. Orlando tries to minimize the need for equalization later by using multiple mikes with different characteristics, dark and bright sounding, to add a more natural balance to his mixes. Bear in mind that it’s advisable to do any dynamics processing before you equalize because compression can alter the sound a bit.

One should be conservative when cutting and boosting frequencies because heavy-handedness in this department could sound unnatural. Try to err on the side of subtractive as opposed to additive EQ to avoid adding noise. If you’re trying to create a special effect by radically shaping your sound, then go ahead and play mad scientist. Just make sure you’re willing to own the monster you create.

Whether your approach is to fix a problem or creatively enhance some sonic aspect, you should EQ the snare sound while referencing it within the mix. Bring up the whole kit and all the other tracks when you make adjustments, soloing the snare as needed to help you hone in on the sound you want. The overhead mikes will make a big difference in the overall sound, so listen to how the snare drum sits in the mix when blended with the overheads. You may need to tailor the sound to cut or blend better with everything else.

Borden advises against enhancing frequencies already present in the snare drum, but rather adding some airiness with a bit of a high-frequency boost — either from standard high-frequency shelving or employing a “Baxandall” shelf, which is a continuously rising shelving type EQ created by centering the bell a parametric type EQ at 20kHz. Adding these high harmonics creates immediacy and intimacy to the sound, he says, yet also creates space.

Rely on your ears when EQing, but here are a few general EQ guidelines pertaining to snare drums. If you need to brighten up the snare drum sound, try adding a bit of high end between 2kHz and 4kHz and upwards of 6kHz and a little high shelving EQ. If the snare drum is irritatingly bright, try notching out somewhere between 1kHz and 4kHz. Orlando often finds himself cutting a bit at 2.5kHz to get rid of the “papery” sounding stuff. If the stick attack is lacking crispness, a small boost in this area can help.

Pay attention to the range between 250 and 800 Hz. Too much in this area and you lose definition because the relationship between the strike of the stick and the ring of the drum gets masked by too much low mid. Conversely, not enough of this crucial area and the drum sounds weak and lacks cajones and warmth.

Cutting the mids between 400Hz and 800Hz could help tame an overabundant ring. If the snare’s taking up too much space in the mix, it usually has too much whump between 200Hz and 500Hz. If it’s too thin, then that’s the range where it’s lacking. Adding bit of low shelving or a little low end around 200Hz to 250Hz can give a weak-sounding drum more oomph. If a snare drum has a low-mid, boxy sound, subtracting a few dB between 200Hz and 300Hz can tighten it up.

THE SNARE IN TIME AND SPACE

Time-based effects such as reverb and delay can add life to your snare in a mix — but be careful not to overdo it. Too long of a reverb tail on the snare will confound the mastering process because it’ll take up too much room in the mix. Factor in room mikes, overheads, and bleed from other mikes when adding any artificial ambience to the mix to avoid excess. The blend should sound natural and pleasing.

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