Mixing a snare drum is very crucial for any type of song. The power, punch, and rhythm come from a snare. So, the tone and sound of a snare drum are very important.
There is no specific way to mix snare but there are some general guidelines. Every snare is different. So, each needs a particular approach.
I will show you the blueprint to snare drum mixing. And then you can try it on your mixes. Of course, you can improvise and make experiments. Music production is subjective and the goal is to make the sound you like.
How Loud Should Snare Be In A Mix?
You may hear this question a lot and that’s a really good question. But there is no specific answer to that question. It depends on the song, type of snare, etc.
Mixing starts with drums. In particular with a kick drum. In general, a snare drum should be louder than a kick drum. The snare should be the loudest drum instrument.
If you are interested in a particular snare volume, a good starting point is -6dB or something in that range. But depending on the song, it could be louder or quieter.
You should create a balance during the gain staging. Make sure that the drums tracks are balanced and that you hear each instrument. Make snare your primary, loudest instrument. The snare should be the prominent instrument to give power and punch to the song.
Where Should Snare Sit In The Mix?
When you mix drums, it’s important to know where should each drum instrument sit in the mix. Because every instrument occupies a specific range in the spectrum. And snare has its range and sweet spots.
Snare covers a wide range of frequencies. In general, the frequency range of a snare spans from 150Hz to 5kHz. But there are some sweet spots you need to enhance. Also, some frequencies need to be cut.
Around 150Hz-250Hz is the body of the snare. It gives the thickness. So, it’s important to have it in your mix. A snare without body and thickness won’t sound good. It will be lost in the mix.
The boxiness of the snare lives from 500Hz to 1kHz. And most times you need to cut it. You must always find and cut areas where instruments sound boxy. It adds nothing to the mix. It makes mixes muddy sounding.
And the attack and the smack of the snare come from 1500Hz to 4000Hz. This is the very critical range for a snare drum. You need to have both – body and attack of the snare. That’s what creates a great snare sound.
Additionally, if you want to add a little air and ring to your snare, then you can boost around 5kHz-8kHz. It’s not necessary but it’s there if you want that kind of snare tone.
This is a general guide and frequency range for snare drums. But every snare is different. You can start from here and mixing snare drums will be easier. Use it as a general guide.
How To Make Good Snare Sound
You have a proper volume of a snare and know where it should live in a mix. Now it sounds better. But to make a great-sounding snare you need to do more.
You need two main tools to make your snare sound good. And these tools are EQ and compressor. And when you know the frequency range of a snare drum, it’s easier to apply EQ.
You can use any type of EQ or compressor. Any plugin or analog gear will work. Also, you may need other tools such as saturation to add more bite and reverb to add more air and space.
1. EQ Snare Drum
Firstly, let’s talk about EQ. This could be the most important thing for mixing the snare. EQ is the tool for cutting or boosting frequencies. But be careful. Don’t overdo it or you will ruin your mix.
When you apply EQ to snare the first thing is removing all excessive frequencies. And these are the very low and high frequencies. For the snare, these are frequencies below 150Hz and above 8kHz.
You do it with high pass and low pass filters. Most modern EQ plugins have this feature. Just create HPF and LPF and cut unnecessary frequencies. Frequencies will be different for each snare but start with a general 150Hz and 8kHz.
After you remove these frequencies the snare will sound cleaner. And then you should start cutting and boosting. According to the general guide, find the sweet spots and boost them. Do the opposite to the boxy or muddy frequencies.
Also, pay attention to other instruments. Some instruments could occupy the same frequency. So, it’s important to avoid frequency overlap. Try to separate instruments and make sure that you hear each instrument.
2. Compress Snare Drum
Compression is a very subjective topic. Some engineers like mild compression and some of them use heavy compression. Also, it depends on the music genre and type of song or snare drum.
The main goal of using compression is to make the sound even and consistent. Also, the compressor can make sound powerful, punchy, and somewhat louder. You have to listen to your snare and find the best snare compressor settings.
With a compressor, you can set threshold, ratio, attack, release, etc. With these options, you can try different settings and choose the one where your snare sounds good.
Overcompression will make the snare dull and lifeless. It will remove dynamics. And that’s not good. Music must be dynamic. So, with the help of a compressor, you should make the snare sound consistent and retain dynamics at the same time.
As a general guide, the 4:1 ratio is a good starting point for a snare drum. Then set the threshold. Try not to exceed 3dB gain reduction. You don’t need too much compression. As long as the sound becomes consistent, it’s enough.
Then tweak attack and release options. Fast attack and release will create power and punch. And slow release and attack will make the snare smoother. Also, if you set a fast attack, there will be no transients. So, have that in mind.
This is just a general guide. Use it as a blueprint. But when it comes to individual tracks and mixing, everything depends on you and your preferences.
3. Add Saturation To Snare
You see that many times engineers use some kind of saturation on the snare. And it’s a common practice. But do snare drums need distortion? Well, it depends.
Saturation on drums is used when you want to add a bite or additional attack. Also, distortion or saturation helps snare to cut in the mix. In other cases, saturation is a part of the snare sound.
So, depending on what you want to achieve you can use saturation. If you want to add a little attack to your snare, use soft or mild distortion. It will not change the sound. Saturation will add a little bite and the snare drum will cut better in the mix.
The saturation settings for snare or other instruments are very subjective. Remember, the goal of using saturation is to add a little bite to the snare.
Learn more about the specific frequency spots and ranges for the snare with this EQ cheat sheet.
Mixing the snare drum is a very important step in mixing. Drums are the power of a song and the main rhythm source. Drums must sound perfect. But it also must sit well in the mix. Mixing the snare is just one step in this process. Use this post as a general guide or a blueprint, try it on your mixes, and everything will be ok.