The moment I heard this SUPER simple statement was one of the most enlightening moments of my career…
"The snare sets the vibe of the track"…
I'm gonna say it again so it really hits home…
"The snare sets the vibe of the track".
What does this mean? It means you need to make a conscious effort to make sure the snare is serving the song in the way it should. If you're trying to create a driving song with attitude, but you have a weak snare, then it's probable that you've missed your target on the mix. This inconspicuous factor can really hold your mix back from sounding pro.
This blog post will discuss ways to inject the right vibe into your snare sound to suit your music production. I’ll walk you through the techniques I use so you have some actionable advice to use in your next mix.
Choosing the perfect Snare sound
Try to start off with a great sample or recording that suits the vibe you’re going for. You want to be tweaking the sound to perfection during the mix, not spending your time completely reshaping your snare.
My super speedy way to choose the perfect snare sound is as follows:
- Create a midi track to trigger the snare.
- Insert ‘Big Kick’ or another sample trigger on that channel.
- Flick through a collection of your favourite snare samples. Chances are you come across one that works really well with your instrumentation and arrangement.
How Loud Should The Snare Be In The Mix?
This totally depends on your production, genre and intent. Here is how I set the snare level in a mix:
- Put the mix in Mono and listen through one speaker using LEVELS. (Listening in mono helps me focus on the balance between the channels).
- Bring the snare channel all the way down and play the chorus or drop of the mix.
- Bring the snare volume up until I think it’s the perfect volume in the mix.
- Take off mono and listen in stereo. I’ll then compare the volume of my snare to my reference track to see how it compares. I might slightly tweak the volume to taste.
Getting the mid frequencies of the snare just right for the mix
This is where the power and body of the sound comes from. You hear the higher frequencies of the snare, but you FEEL the mids.
- Control the mids… Low cut up to just below the thump of the snare to clean the mud.
- You’ll see a bump at the lower end of the snare on the frequency spectrum, this is the body of the snare. In my example below it's at 200Hz. Listen to the snare in the context of the whole mix and cut or boost it to sit perfectly in your mix. (It’s rare that you would leave this exactly as it sounds in the same, but consider that as an option if it works perfectly already).
Warmth, Attitude & Vibe
The foundations are now set and your snare is probably sounding great. Now to take it to the next level. Both electronic and recorded samples can sound flat, uninteresting, robotic or cliche. Sprucing them up with your own creative flare will help you become a more purposeful mixer.
Analogue Tape Emulation can be a great way to add warmth and character to your snare samples.
Distortion can add both clarity and grit to your snare sound helping it cut through the mix in the way you want it to. Push the distortion a bit further if you want a more aggressive vibe.
Transient Shapers are a great way to shape the snap of your snare. Think about the other transients in your mix and how you want your snare to compare. Do you want it poking out in the mix with a more obvious transient or matching the rest of the punchy sounds for a more balanced mix?
Limiting and heavy compression gives a very distinct sound to the snare. It can add some serious attitude and energy when used musically. But be careful not to smash the transient so much that the snare looses its vibe. For a phat sound, go for an attack that just allows the transient of the snare to go through the limiter untouched, then use a medium release to allow the limiter to reset before the next hit.
Parallel processing is another extremely effective way to enhance the sound of your snare. I like to get a super sweet sounding EQ on an aux channel and boost the top end all the way. I send the snare to this bus and dial in just a touch into the mix to get some snap and sparkle on the snare.
I find that the backbeat will be much stronger when there is one GREAT sounding sample dominating the snare space. However, I like to add percussive elements such as clicks or knocks and pan them far left and right to add some width to the backbeat.
The reverb plays a big part of how your snare sits in your mix. If you want an upfront and tight snare sound you would go for a slightly longer pre-delay, a short tail and a fast decay rate. If you wanted a more washy sound that pushes the snare back in a mix you would want to go for a fast pre-delay, a longer tail and a slower decay rate.
I recommend having a broad reverb setting for your snare, drums and percussion to give the mix a realistic and cohesive vibe. I’ll often create the reverb specifically for my snare, then use those settings on my toms and percussion.
These various aspects of the snare character might need tweaking as your mix progresses. In the moments before you bounce down the final mix, make sure the snare is serving the song the way it should be.