March 29, 2017
You’ve been mixing snares as long as you’ve been mixing music. You’ve got your go-to plugins and processes to make that beauty shine in the mix. But are you overlooking these common snare mixing mistakes and being complacent with your drum mixing?
This is one of the most common issues for beginners and seasoned vets alike. Percussion has arguably the fastest attack of all instruments in popular music, but it doesn’t always need to be treated that way.
Most engineers, myself included, jump right to the fastest attack setting when adding a compressor to their snare track. This is a great starting point, but it shouldn’t be your only option. The purpose of your compressor should be to settle the snare into your mix, not just make it louder.
By playing around with the attack on the compressor, you’re able to hear subtle changes in how your snare interacts with the rest of the mix. It can add some sag to a snare that sounds too tight to the grid, and even take the edge off of a snare that’s too bright.
Threshold is a tightrope that you need to walk with any dynamic instrument, but you’ll need to give extra care when setting it on your snare. Why? Because your snare usually has more hits than any other shell on your drum kit (excluding speed metal kicks). Not just that, but you’ve also got some of the biggest variation there, between hits, rolls & ghost notes.
Instinct tells you to set your threshold to match the louder hits, but you could be losing a lot of the softer ones in the process. When this happens you sometimes hear your rolls slipping in and out, but most often, they’ll just be missing altogether.
You can easily make up for this by bringing your threshold down to those softer notes. Finding a balance between soft and loud is the quickest way to improve your snare compression while keeping a natural sound to match the rest of your drums.
Similar to our first point, this is one mistake that can happen to anyone mixing drums. It can be easy to dial in too much compression, especially when trying to beef up an anemic snare. So how do you know how much is too much?
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to decide right away whether your snare needs to be limited, or the less drastic option, compressed. If it’s the latter, you really don’t need to be going anywhere above 10:1.
If you’re happy with the natural sound of the snare, a 2:1 ratio can be great for light compression/clean up. You can also dial in a bit more as you see fit – trust your ears. The key is to not fall into the habit of compressing at a specific ratio because “you always compress snare at that ratio.” Each song & snare is different, and deserves to be treated as such.
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