Snare drums are some of the loudest pieces of any drum set, and for good reason. The crack of a good snare combined with the power of a kick drum is the driving force behind every good rhythm section.
Unfortunately, the bite of a snare can be too much in an overhead mix, to the point where even the best engineer will struggle to find isolation.
The next time you find yourself battling an unruly snare that’s overpowering your cymbals and decimating your overhead mics, try this quick fix to get rid of that pesky snare bleed.
Identifying the Problem
The first real step when reducing the level of snare in your overheads is identifying if that’s truly the problem. A poorly captured overhead recording isn’t going to magically sound better once the snare’s been reduced, so further post-processing may be required.
Reducing the snare in your overheads should have a minimal impact on the sound of the drum set on its own.
The majority of your snare’s tone is already likely coming from the close mics. The overheads make up a small piece of that puzzle, but that’s unlikely the main purpose of those mics.If your concern is isolating your cymbals for processing or reducing the influence your overhead has on your overall snare tone, this method should work in most situations. If you’re trying to compensate for bleed going the other direction (cymbals in snare mics), we’ve got you covered there too.
Limit, Don’t EQ
First impressions might lead you to grab an EQ to notch out your snare, but that doesn’t work for several reasons.
For starters, your snare isn’t just a static frequency. Depending on the velocity of the hit, the overtones tuning between heads & even the rattle of the snares, your snare drum is a complex, dynamic instrument.By trying to treat with an EQ, you would need to notch out each and every frequency in the snare drum. On top of that, you’d need to automate the frequency and gain to sweep with the decay of the drum. There’s a much, much better approach.
Instead of reaching for an EQ, load up a limiter like Finality Advanced for more dynamic control. Using a limiter to treat your snare provides broadband control while minimizing unintentional cymbal treatment.
Setting Your LimiterSetting up your limiter will take a bit of tweaking and a lot of critical listening. The goal is to remove the snare as much as possible to give you a clean cymbal mix to treat accordingly. Watch how Fluff goes about removing the snare from overheads below:
As you can see, the two biggest components going into making your overheads sound natural are the Threshold and Release. Your threshold setting should be pulled down as far as you can go without hearing/seeing cymbals triggering the limiter.
Follow that up with a smooth transition between hits by adjusting the Release of the limiter. If the release is too fast, you’re going to hear pumping with each snare hit. Set it too slow and you end up losing some of your cymbals even after the snare decay has completely faded out.
The amount for both of these settings are going to vary based on the source audio and mix, but using your ears should always steer you in the right direction.
Limitless Overhead Options
Once you’ve got your snare pulled out using a limiter, the opportunities with your overheads are endless. You can add some heavy compression for an aggressive sound, process them in parallel, or even use some reverb to create a space around them.Have you used a limiter in an unusual way before? Was it to isolate something similar to what we did here, or something completely different?
If you’ve got a special use for your limiter, we’d love to hear about it over in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. Come join a community of like-minded engineers and see what others are doing to take their tracks to the next level.