Shocking Snare Drums to Electrify Your Mix

Sometimes you’ve really gotta dirty part of your mix up for it to grab attention. Sometimes that means reaching for the closest compressor and driving the signal through it until you’ve got a fully saturated sound. Other times, it means getting creative with the way you record the track to begin with.

This time, we’re going to look at how adding a bit of electronic influence to a snare on an acoustic track can completely alter an entire mix.

SPOILER: We’re only going to move one knob to do it.

Prepping Our Session 

Since the processing we’re going to do is a bit on the destructive side, we’re going to copy our snare track to have our own “edit” track. This track gives us a little more flexibility than applying the processing to the source audio directly, and can easily be summed/grouped together with the source audio for a cohesive snare drum bus for further mixing.

Similar results could be achieved by using an additional send/bus instead of a copy, but for the sake of simplicity, a copy works just as well.

Applying the Voltage 

Our goal with the snare in this track is to add some digital presence and edge. We want something that cuts like an old hip-hop sample, without overpowering the natural acoustics. To get there, it just takes one plugin and one adjustment.

We’re using Pixelator to reach our goal, but any plugin with a sample divider should be able to bring you the results you want. Once you’ve got it on your track, it’s a breeze to dial in just the right amount of degradation:

How It Works

Pixelator’s sample divider continuously weakens the quality of the audio when turning the knob up. It reduces the sample rate of the audio, which results in less clarity and detail. Similar sounds can be achieved by reducing the bit depth (sometimes referred to as Bit Crushing).

As you can see in the video, even a little bit of sample division can go a long way to change the sound of a snare. While Fluff’s one-shots sounded more like claps, other samples will react differently. A denser snare may start to modulate and warp. Some snares may sound a bit more “sizzly”.

It’s up to you to find out which ones work and which ones don’t, but manipulating the audio resolution is a great, creative approach to a common problem.

Keep A Level Head 

Don’t forget to balance your faders if you’re taking the two-track approach. Just like a plugin can magically make something sound better because of a volume boost, you run the same risk when playing back duplicated tracks.

Whether your want to bring down your levels before or after processing is up to you, just be sure you’re not tricking yourself into hearing a difference when the snare might just be louder than it was before.

Calling All Snare Aficionados!

If you’re a sucker for a good snare and love dialing in the perfect tone on each song, we want to hear what you’re working on. Come join the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum and share your approach with thousands of like-minded engineers and producers.