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Mix Recipes: Snare Drum EQ and Compression

A great snare drum sound can really drive a mix. If you start to listen critically to a lot of dance, rock, metal, modern country, pop, funk, and other kinds of popular music you will notice the next loudest thing to the vocals is typically the snare drum. No matter how much is going on in a great mix you will always be able to identify every snare drum hit cutting through the sonic landscape. This article gives you pointers on which frequencies to boost to make that snare drum shine and suggests some common compressor settings to bring your drum to life. There is also some advice for using a dual mic arrangement on the snare drum.

The snare drum big four: pulse, smack, wires, head

These terms should become part of your snare drum vocabulary. This should get us on the same page for talking about the mix recipes.

Pulse describes the part of the snare drum that smacks you in the chest and makes you want to dance. Another good word for this part of the sound is body. You can often get some extra pulse out of the drum boosting as low as 100Hz but that can start to affect the kick drum and bass sounds so I like to look a little higher. You can get some clean pulse out of your snare drum by looking in the 200-400Hz area. I like using a regular peaking band of eq to boost the pulse. A Q setting (bandwidth) of about 1.0 should be fine. If you don’t get quite enough pulse out of the snare drum you can try making the band a bit wider (lower Q, higher bandwidth).

Smack should work in conjunction with the pulse to really help identify the snare drum hit within the mix. Some other common descriptions would be bang or crack. You will find most of your snare drum’s smack around 900Hz-2.0kHz. A peaking band works well here and I will often reduce the bandwidth (Q) to 1.5 or so. A narrower bandwidth here can help pinpoint the smack without taking up too much space in the already crowded and vital midrange frequencies.

Wires are exactly what they describe. The snare wires under the drum help to give it much of its characteristic buzz. The snare wires can be found in the 3-5kHz region. A narrower bandwidth can work well here just as in the smack band (see above). While bringing out the snare wires can help the drum sound very exciting, you will have to be careful not to overdo it. This frequency can get buzzy and fatiguing in a hurry. Be sure to evaluate the sound of the drum the way it sounds in your recording. Many snare drums will naturally accentuate the wires enough that you won’t have to boost them. If you have recorded your snare using a dual mic technique (see below) then you might do all the boosting of wire sounds on the bottom snare mic.

Head is just what it sounds like, the head of the drum. Imagine the sound of a snare played with a brush. That swishing sound of the brush is the timbre I mean when talking about the head sound of the snare drum. Played with brush or stick, your snare drum still makes a head sound in the 6-10kHz range. Boosting this frequency can give a lot of extra texture to your snare drum sound. A peaking band will often do plenty of work for you but you can try high shelving band too.

Snare drum big four quick eq chart

More pulse (body) +4dB at 200Hz
More smack (bang) +3dB at 2kHz
More wires (buzz) +6dB at 5kHz
More head (texture) +6dB at 7kHz
To eliminate kick drum bleed and rumble use a high pass band at 80Hz

Snare drum eq recipes

    Start here for subtle snare drum shaping with mild cut through

  • Band 1: 150Hz high pass
  • Band 2: +3dB at 200Hz
  • Band 3: +4dB at 4.0kHz
  • Band 4: +4dB at 7.0kHz
    Start here for a solid, traditional snare drum sound

  • Band 1: +5dB at 250Hz
  • Band 2: +6dB at 2.0kHz
  • Band 3: +4dB at 5.0kHz
  • Band 4: +8dB at 10kHz
    Start here for a snare drum sound with a thick body and smooth top

  • Band 1: +6dB at 180Hz
  • Band 2: +4dB at 250Hz
  • Band 3: -4dB at 800Hz (adds clarity)
  • Band 4: +6 at 3.0kHz
  • Band 5: +8 at 7.0kHz
    Start here for a deep and punchy snare drum sound

  • Band 1: 80Hz high pass
  • Band 2: +9dB at 200Hz
  • Band 3: +3dB at 2.5kHz
  • Band 4: +1dB at 3.5kHz
  • Band 5: +8dB at 8.0kHz

Snare drum compression

I don’t like to get too crazy compressing a snare drum. Typically a light compression can be used just to even out the dynamics a bit. A good snare drum player will already play with great dynamics that will really help the song come alive so don’t squash the life out of the performance by using too much compression.

Reduction level is the amount your snare drum is being compressed. All good compressors have some kind of meter or way to gauge your signal reduction. This will sometimes be labeled gain reduction or will just be a meter that seems to work backwards, going down or showing negative values on each drum hit. You should be able to see the reduction increase (more into the negative range) as you lower the threshold of the compressor. I like to get 3-6dB of gain reduction for subtle snare drum compression. Reduction level is not adjusted directly. It is adjusted by lowering the threshold control until you are getting your desired reduction level.

Snare drum compressor recipes

    Start here for light snare drum compression

  • Ratio: 4:1
  • Attack: 4ms
  • Release: 200ms
  • Threshold: adjust for 3-6dB gain reduction
    Start here to increase the sustain for a thicker snare drum sound

  • Ratio: 6:1
  • Attack: 1ms
  • Release: 200ms
  • Threshold: adjust for 6-10dB gain reduction

Snare drum mic

Shure SM57 Instrument/Vocal Mic

Shure SM57 price check


No home studio mic cabinet is complete without a few of these classic microphones. They are inexpensive and sound great on everything, including snare drums. Spend some time in pro studios watching bands lay down tracks and you’ll see more than one snare drum with an SM57 on it. You really can’t go wrong with a snare and SM57 combination for your home recordings.
AKG D220 Snare & Tom Microphone

AKG D220 price check


This mic is a great alternative if you are looking for something just a little different in the same price range that still sounds great. The D220 is not as versatile with non-drum instruments but is still a great mic for your home studio if you record drums regularly.

Snare drum bottom mic eq and compressor recipe

A cool trick to try is putting two mics on the snare, one on top and one on the bottom. Be sure to record them on separate tracks. The bottom snare drum mic will capture a lot of the wire sound of the snares and give you independant mix control of that sonic element. Using an SM57 on top and another on bottom works well, or you can mix a D220 on top and keep an SM57 on the bottom. I treat the bottom mic a bit differently in the mix, using extreme compressor and eq settings. You will still want to use the top mic as your main snare drum sound but you can mix in a variable amount of the bottom mic to your personal taste.

    Start here for eq on a bottom snare drum mic

  • Band 1: 50Hz high pass
  • Band 2: +6dB at 200Hz
  • Band 3: +15dB at 5kHz
    Start here for compression on the bottom snare drum mic

  • Ratio: 10:1
  • Attack: 1ms
  • Release: 200ms
  • Threshold: adjust for 10-15dB gain reduction
Waves Musicians 2 Native Software

Waves Musicians 2 Bundle price check


This is the bundle I recommend people use as the entry point to the Waves sound and experience. It includes the Renaissance EQ and Renaissance Compressor which are two of my favorite plugins ever.
Waves Renaissance Maxx Native Bundle

Waves Renaissance Maxx Bundle price check


This is the next step up if you can afford just a bit more. The two main go to plugins you will add above the Mus 2 bundle are the Renaissance Reverb and Renaissance Vox, two of my other favorite plugins.
Waves Gold Native Bundle Hybrid CD Win/Mac

Waves Gold Native Bundle price check


This bundle has a lot more plugins than the other two bundles, but it is a lot more expensive and doesn’t really add any go to plugins that are essentials. The coolest addition is the L1 which is great for mastering. Only you can decide if the extra plugins are worth the scratch.
Waves Mercury Native Software

Waves Mercury Bundle price check


This is the bundle for you if price is no object (costs more than most DAW packages). You get every Waves plugin currently supported by the company. There are a lot of cool, boutique eq and compressor plugins here. The SSL, API, and V-series plugins all have really great, classic sounds to them.

46 replies on “Mix Recipes: Snare Drum EQ and Compression”

He guys, i just had a question:

What is it that you consider headroom when recording?

and how much is it healthy or convenient to leave on a track?

It is something you will generally learn to “feel” through lots of experience. I don’t even have a concrete answer for you because I have learned my software and types of source enough that I just look at the meters and think, “yeah, bouncing around in that range looks pretty good.” I have mixed stuff recorded at lots of other studios and tracks have come in peaking anywhere from 0dB down to -40dB and I haven’t had any trouble getting great mixes out of them. So basically don’t sweat it to the point you lose creative flow. I suspect I typically get my meters peaking between -6dB and -18dB. A grammy award winning engineer once confessed to me that the first thing he does when he gets a mix from another studio is to put a -10dB fader on EVERY track because getting raw tracks too hot is a chronic problem even in the “pro” world.

Thank you all for your comments…great article….I love to check out this stuff to make sure im not getting too out there….I use some extreme EQ’ing sometimes (and Compression) for different desired effects…after all these years I have learned when it comes to recording and mixing….there is no right and wrong…its what ever gets the goose bumps going during the session…obviously as long as you are not digital clipping or getting undesired results…spin the knobs and go for it!

Hello, I would like to have a snare sound like in “LOVE HURTS” from Incubus. Which EQ and Compressor settings do you suggest to accomplish this?

I’m not familiar with that particular track of theirs. When trying to match a drum sound from another track my first approach is to import that other track into my project so I can directly A/B it with my recording. EQ and compression is not always what gives a snare its sound. Sometimes you have to add delay, reverb or even a gate to get the sound from a recorded track. I have even used my Haas delay plugin to get a wide snare sound when I was trying to match a certain Black Crowes song (don’t remember which one). Doing this kind of A/B comparison directly in your project is a recommended practice. You’ll be surprised how much better your mixes will improve over a short period of time!

hey bvesco…

I’m a drummer from Brazil, and I just started doing some recordings in my recently set up home studio. In the beginning I’ll focus on recording drums and in the future try “the rest of the band”.

These infos here are REALLY helpful, great starting point. I made some takes and used the recipes as a guide and the results were quite good.

Keep up the great job you’re doing

Cheers

Celso

I have a typical issue with snare(May be not), I am using cubase essentials, Ez drummer as my DAW and drum sampler.
I am mixing a Ballad, i wanted my snare always to stand out with long delayed reverb effect tail and crisp.
The snare with added delays and reverbs sound good in solo but when i remove solo, the effects get lost in the mix and instead of making it prominent that snare get either dull or very sharp in the final mix down !! never stands out ,…same goes withe toms…i want a roomy feel like November rain to my Ballad…but thet snare and the toms dont sound the way i want, or the way they sound in NOVEMBER RAIN

Try a low pass filter (removes all high end) on all the spacial effects to keep the initial snare sound “up front” in the mix. You can also try putting the effects 30-70ms after the initial snare sound instead of right on it (you can do this with an aux send where the first effect is a single slap delay with 100% wet). Also try compressing the principle snare sound unnaturally to increase the sustain and make it thicker. You can do this by tuning the compressor release time to be quicker than normal so the compressor is turning the snare up louder as it decays.

Good luck!

I am new to home recording. I use sonar 8.5 producer and for the drums I use SessionDrummer 3. I tried to follow your examples above as a starting point for drum EQ and compression but the result is quite disappointing. Could it be that the sounds in Session Drummer 3 have already been equalized and compressed and need no extra EQ and compression?

Thanks a lot for your advice

Yes, the drum sounds in drum plugins like that often are already quite processed. One of the reasons I really like Jamstix (by Razoon) is that the drum sounds are a lot more raw like a well recorded (but unmixed) track.

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