Do you know what you’re doing when it comes to compressing your snare drums? If you’re like the vast majority of engineers and producers, you’ve probably got a few go-to tricks, but do you know why they work? More importantly, do you know what to do in situations where they don’t?
It’s a Balancing Act
Finding the balance between your transient and body is the constant struggle with compression. Too much attack, and it’s hard to keep your snare’s sustain sounding fat. Focus too much on the body and you risk losing the snare in the mix. But taking the time to dial in the ADSR (attack, decay, sustain & release) of your snare’s compressor is an absolute must to settle it into your mix.
Don’t Crush Your Dynamics, Control Them
Instead of smashing, crushing, or otherwise mutilating everything you send into a compressor, control them – make them do what you want. Too many times, we’ll send our snares into a compressor, crank up the ratio and destroy the tone for a bit more perceived volume. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t solve any underlying problems.
We want to create consistency when we’re compressing out snares. We want to be able to take our loudest hits and softer notes and bring them to a level playing field so that other tools like EQ can do their job consistently throughout a song. We want something dependable.
So what does this mean for our settings? A high enough ratio to bring your peaks down closer to the average hits. A fast enough attack to catch the initial transient of the snare. Release and decay set long enough to let your drums naturally ebb and flow. Too short on either will result in pumping and breathing that can distract you from the actual tone.
Make an Attack Plan
Your transient is your lifeblood when it comes to bringing a snare out of a dense mix. Listen to how it interacts with each section of the song, and make a plan on whether or not you can apply blanket treatment to the snare, or if some automation might need to be applied between the verses and choruses.
No two songs are identical and neither are the snare tracks in them.
By listening to where your snare sits in the songs and planning your compression settings, you’re able to apply some basic treatment principles to it. Need something that packs a lot of punch? A slower attack will let that transient come through loud and proud. Have too much attack, but missing the tail of the snare? Bring that attack up as fast as it will go, and those transients will trigger the compressor near-instantaneously. A slower release time will bring that tail back to life.
So What Do I Do with a Snare When (Insert Problem Here)?
Experiment with it. There’s nothing wrong with trying new techniques, especially in the digital realm where we can just undo anything we don’t like. The point is, everybody is going to have their own approach, but nobody should be running in blindfolded.Instead, use your common sense and past experiences to leverage yourself as a better mixer. These starting points are good things to consider as you forge your own sound. You’re taking the initiative, showing your dedication to one area that too many others are neglecting.
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