We all love drums. Whenever I’m about to start a beat, I immediately start looking for drum samples that I can use, and usually I’m digging through vinyl to find them. There’s been plenty of debates about whether samples from vinyl or sound kits are the better choice, and I would have to go with vinyl. The reason why is because with sound kits, even though they’re great, too often I’ve had wackness ring into my ears. Like a snare I once found.
I wasn’t satisfied with the snare so I decided that something needed to be done with it. There’s plenty of ways that you can take a snare and morph it into something else, but here’s some of the things I did.
First of all, I found a random snare in a drum kit that I’ve had for a long time. I think it’s from a Rock record. Here is the original snare before I decided to mess with it:
I Smashed It
Compression is something that can be overwhelming if you’re not sure what you’re doing, but there’s also some compression plug-ins that have presets that make the task much easier for you. I suggest you use a preset and then tweak it from there for best results. It’s great to compress a snare but make sure you don’t over do it because you could end up with a sound that doesn’t fit well with the rest of your drums, in other words, it would be over-compressed.
When using compression, like I just mentioned, presets are great to start off with, and you don’t want to force anything, making it sound like something it shouldn’t. Here’s what my snare sounded like after compressing it with a snare preset, with a ratio of 7.5:1 and a threshold of -12.5dB:
Notice how it’s quieter now. It sounds similar to the original, only it’s now more subtle, which can be a good thing since you could then layer it with something else.
I EQ’d It
Lots of times I see people relying too much on plug-ins and forgetting about something so simple, like equalization. There’s not much to really explain about EQ because as far as I’m concerned, it’s hit or miss. You play with the levels and see what sounds good. There are times you can boost the lows or trim the highs, and EQ’s have presets as well. The fact remains though, that you just need to tweak it enough, or else you could end up with a snare that is either too boomy or too thin.
Here’s what my snare sounded like after applying a treble boost EQ frequency of 1980 hz and 5.7 db of gain:
Notice how it now sounds louder and has more hiss. This can be a bad thing, but it could also be great because it can add liveliness to your overall mix.
I Layered It
This one is my favorite method. Instead of playing around with compression and EQ, hoping that it will sit well in my mix later on, I instead just simply layer my snare with another snare. Or two. Or three. Whatever is needed to make the snare track sound great. There have been plenty of times where I layered three snares together because they all fit so well with one another. For example, I would have a snare that was thick, another that was compressed, and another that was very thin. If you put all those together, you can come up with something that sounds really dope.
I always prefer my snares to have a nice “smack” to it, but not too “smacky” (is that a word?) so that my levels go crazy into the red. That is where you can start to use EQ, compression, or just re-layer and use different snares instead.
My advice is that you start off with layering. I had a snare that I didn’t like that much so I layered it with two other snares and then I applied compression and/or EQ – if they were needed. You see? All three options that I’m outlining can easily come together! You don’t have to use them separately, instead, use them all if you need to. Here’s my snare layered with a much thicker one:
Notice how it sounds much better now. I didn’t use EQ and compression first, instead I just kept the original snare and then layered it with a thicker one. It’s actually kind of fun layering because you have to mix and match and try to find a good combination of snares that will sound great together.
I Deleted It
There are times when your snare will sound like garbage no matter what, and the only option is to destroy it. I’ve had plenty of occurrences where I found a snare that sounded great but then later on I realized it sounded terrible, so I ditched it. I didn’t even attempt to compress, EQ, or layer it because I knew there was just no saving it.
One time, there was a snare that sounded like someone had beaten a piece of tin with a dildo, that’s how bad it was. If that happens to you, ditch it!
It’s up to you how you want to treat your snares, but it really all boils down to what the snare sounds like, what kind of track you’re working on, and what you want the end result to be. Never, ever say to yourself, “I’ll fix it in the mix” because you will be punching yourself later on when you can’t fix it and have to re-do it anyway.
The best type of snare is a snare that is clean and is not overly processed. Try to find something clean, but not too clean, then you will have plenty of room to operate and do whatever you want to it. Good luck!