Everybody strives to get that bright, resonant crack out of their snare recordings, but often we find ourselves with something closer to a dull thud without the right techniques.
A great snare drum relies on efforts everywhere throughout the process, from setting your snare up for success before the recording session and on through recording and mixing. When done right, a great snare will ring clearly through the mix without any muddiness or unwanted overtones.
The next time you’re working with drums from tracking through mixing, consider taking these steps to get the best possible results.
Tune Your Snare
Snare drums are just like every other instrument in your mix – they sound their best when they’re properly tuned. And while the process for tuning isn’t quite the same for snare drums as it is for a guitar or bass, knowing how to tune a drum is an incredibly valuable skill to have in the studio.
For heavier tracks, a looser tuning creates a darker snare with more body. Tightening up the lugs on your snare is going to make it brighter, with more crack to it.
I won’t get in-depth on snare tuning here since that deserves an entire course of its own, but if you don’t already know how to tune a snare, spend some time on YouTube learning how others do it. You’ll pick up some great tips by watching how the pros are tuning their snares to get the exact tone they’re after on every session.
Try Out Different Types of Snare Drums
This one comes down to accessibility, but what I’ve found from working with some great drummers is that versatility is about more than the player – it’s about the gear.
A brass snare is going to sound drastically different from a maple one. The plies of wood used in the snares construction, the size and depth of the same, and even the heads being paired with different snares all influence the sound.
If you’ve got access to a few different options for snare drums, spend a few extra minutes before hitting record to find the perfect one for the sound you’re going for.
Use Snare Samples
As we move past tracking to editing and mixing, I’d be remiss not to at least mention the value that samples can add to your snare sound.
Snare samples are widely available and utilized in all genres of music today. For those without access to a space to record live drums in, samples are the perfect way to incorporate professional, full drums into their mix. This is especially true with kicks and snares, where you’re able to find libraries worth of one shots and programmable samples.
Even those with live drums can utilize the benefits that samples offer through layering and replacement. Layered snares are a great way to combine the body of your live-tracked snare with the crack of a professionally recorded sample. Have a hit that didn’t quite land right? Sample replacement can be a quick fix.
As you develop your own drum sounds, creating your own samples is a great way to build your own collection of sounds to use for replacement and layering in your sessions.
Snare Transient Shaping
One of the biggest places I see engineers and mixers missing the mark with their snares is right on the transient itself. While a drum might sound exactly like they wanted it to during tracking, when they get to the mix it just isn’t cutting through for them.
This doesn’t mean the recording itself is bad and too often it goes to waste with a ton of EQ changing the tone completely.
These engineers could just as easily reach for a transient shaper or clipper to adjust the sound of their transients and help them cut through a bit more – leaving the tail of the snare completely intact.
Layers of Compression
Rounding out our list of ways to get your snare sounding better in your sessions is compression – but not just the standard one you throw on to tame some of those peaks. I’m talking about layers of compression to draw all of the tonal goodness you possibly can out of that snare drum.
By stacking compressors on your snare track itself, you can apply incremental amounts of gain reduction so no single compressor has to do too much heavy lifting. You’re able to apply both slow and fast settings to attack & release times. Experiment with different compressors to find your sound!
When you’re done, finish it off with some bus glue to sit that snare perfectly at the center of your drum mix.
Take Control of ALL of Your Drums
Getting a better sounding snare is just the start – you still need to be able to work with kicks, cymbals, toms & other percussive elements of a similar quality or you haven’t done a whole lot to improve your overall situation.
If you’re serious about getting better drums that drive your mixes forward, make sure you pick up your copy of our Taking Control of Your Drum Mix eBook.