The more reverb on the signal, the more distant it sounds; conversely, the drier the signal, the more intimate it sounds. Play around with the ratio of effects you have on each of the tracks you are processing to get more depth from your mix. Boisen recommends organic-sounding short room or ambient reverb, perhaps some spring reverb if you’re going for a vintage, old-school effect.
There are many options out there for adding artificial ambience, from outboard processors to plug-ins, but Borden maintains that nothing beats the natural ambience of a good room. If you have the luxury of a good room, use room mikes and go for natural. If the room is small, you can create the illusion of a bigger space by delaying the room-mike tracks between 5 and 20 milliseconds and mixing it in with the snare to the desired consistency of dry-to-wet signal.
Dramatic processing such as echoing delays, EQ sweeps, distortion, and epic reverb can be fun if the project calls for it. But consider how it will affect the overall mix in the end. Once the novelty wears off, you’re stuck with the mix. Based on his experience, Boisen suggests that if you’re going out on a limb with radical processing, you do a backup mix that’s more conservative. That way, you’ll have options if the novelty does wear off.
If you’re looking for dirt and distortion, running the track through a Tech21 Sans Amp or Line 6 Amp Farm will certainly add some crunch to that snare. All manner of effects are at your disposal, from guitar stomp boxes and various effects processors to DAW plug-ins. Send the channels to be processed through, say, a pre-fader aux bus to the input of the processor, and bring the affected signal back into a separate channel to tweak it and mix it in with the original dry sound. Just make sure the blended snare sound sits well with the rest of the mix — not just the kit as a whole but with all the tracks.
A trick Borden uses to thicken up a snare drum sound is to use a delay to double the sound. By setting up a 15- to 20-millisecond delay with no regeneration (no repeating echo), the sound will be effectively doubled. The two hits will be too close together to sound like a flam, but will instead serve to fatten up the track.
Another approach besides parallel compression for evening out inconsistent levels from hit to hit is to use some plug-ins such as Digidesign’s Sound Replacer, Drum Agog, or Trillium Labs Drum Rehab. These programs will allow you to take a sample, or several samples, of a good strong hit and either replace the weaker hits with the samples or reinforce them so they sound more on par musically with the rest of the track. The program essentially analyzes the track and drops in the sample at the transients. Orlando recommends blending in the sample as opposed to straight-up replacement for a more natural sound.
While a lot of engineers will often find one or two ways that work for them to capture a great snare and overall sound and stick with that, it’s always a good idea to step outside the bounds of one’s self-imposed groove and experiment with other techniques — especially if different approaches can help you say something different with a track. So be bold, and go snare that perfect snare sound.