Where Do Snare Drums Come From?


Alright, boys and girls. It’s time to learn where snares come from!

That’s supposed to be a joke, like babies… Nah? Whatever.

Anyway, www.weiss-sound.com, www.theproaudiofiles.com. Also, learncompression.com, mixinghiphop.com, mixingedm.com… Probably a whole bunch of other dot comes eventually in the future. They’re all really good though, so it’s a-okay.

Anyway, what I’m going to do right now is show you how I would take an acoustic snare drum and process it to turn it into a sampled programmed hit that you would use in like a “boom bap” hip-hop style record, or a rock record, or like if you were triggering a drum for a rock record, or a pop record if it was like a Lana Del Ray-esque style pop record.

Basically, I have a couple of acoustic recorded snare drums. I did this over at Kawari Studios with the help of Zach Goldstein, who’s a really, really good engineer, and here we have one of them right here.

[snare drum]

And here we have another.

[snare drum]

So, two different drums, and they’re being layered on top of each other to sound like this.


But eventually, we’re going to get them to sound like this.

[triggered snare drum plays]

Cool, okay. How do we do this?

Well, first of all, at every step along the way, this is like the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory tour… At every step along the way, we make sure that our chocolate is the finest grade!

I’m making sure that all of the mic configurations that were used to mic up the original snares are perfectly aligned and in phase to be the most complimentary possible.

There were five microphones setup. One was a close, RCA-44, one was a 414 underneath the snare to catch the band and the resonance, another one was an 87, which was a little bit further away from the snare, and then another one was a couple of room mics. I don’t remember what they were, but they were further back. I’m using combinations thereof to form my two primary original snares.

Once they are together, then I am taking what I want from each one. So, from this second snare here…

[snare drum]

What I really want is the low end and the high end. It’s got the texture and the breadth. This is sort of the snare layer that’s going to give the main one size. So, I’m going to remove the mid-range, and it’s going to sound like this.

[snare plays, no mid-range]

Really weird, right? It sounds ghostly and hollow and strange. I’m also going to cut off some low end rumble that’s in there as well. This will be more transparent.

[snare plays, cutting low end]

Alright, so there is my layer, and with the original one, all I’m going to do here is I’m just going to boost a little bit of the lower mid-range. This is sort of where the primary frequency is living.

So, before and after.

[snare plays]

Not much of a difference. It’s just a little bit to give it a little extra body there.

Here are the two together.

[final snare plays]

So, before…



[final snare plays]

Okay, so. Once I’ve done that, I’ve sort of figured out what I want from each snare. I’m going to print them onto their own tracks. So, this is exactly what you heard above, except for now they are prints.

[snares play]

There we go.

Now, what I want to do, since I have these two separate snares, is make sure that they are as phase aligned as possible as well.

So, I am going to use Waves In-Phase, which I’ve used in a couple other tutorials. Basically, I’m shifting the filtered sample by minus point zero four milliseconds, which is like, a sample, eariler in time, and I am flipping the phase on the overall signal, but then reflipping the phase on a band at around 216, which is about where that fundamental tone of the snare drum is. It’s a really important tone.

So, the whole thing is being flipped, but then the main body of the snare is being flipped back, because that was in phase, but maybe everything else was a little bit out of phase between these two snares.

So, what’s the difference in sound? Here it is without being phase aligned.

[snare plays]

Here it is with.

[snare plays, phase aligned]

One more time.

[snare plays]

[phase aligned]

Now, you’re probably not hearing too much difference. If I were to pinpoint that difference, it would just feel like the one with the phase alignment is a little fuller, but not even that much, and it’s a little less open sounding. So we’re losing a little openness, we’re getting a little more fullness. It’s mostly a tonal change more than anything else, but we’re going to revisit that whole idea in a second.

Now, the next thing that I’m doing is I’m using Sound Radix Pi, which is a variable all-pass filter, and that’s going to allow me to get the phase even more aligned than before.

So, here is before…

[snare plays]


[snare plays, in phase]

Okay, now, again, you might not be hearing much difference, but! Watch what happens if we do this.

Let’s turn off Pi, switch to the un-phase aligned version. Here is before.

[snare drum]

Now after.

[snare, in phase]

Betcha heard a difference on that! One more time.

[snare, in phase]

Definitely sounds a lot fuller and a lot stronger! Well, these little subtle differences are a game of inches, which is why from the very beginning of the creation of the original samples that I’m blending together, I took a lot of time to make sure that all of the mics were in phase. Then I’m making sure that the new samples, after they’ve been treated are in phase, and when we do the reverb print, phase is going to come up again.

So, what I do next is I sum them down into one single snare. This is now the layer of those. It sounds like this.

[layered snare plays]

And I’m also printing a reverb return from my Eventide DSP 7000. Together, they all sound like this.

[snare plays]

Here’s just the reverb.

[reverb plays]

And both together.

[snare plays with reverb]

And between the reverb and the dry signal, I’m also using phase correction. This is Sound Raddix Auto-Align, which is going to pull that reverb right into the pocket where it sounds the best.

Here is without it…

[snare drum]

Here’s with.

[snare plays with reverb Auto-Aligned]

The only difference is there’s a little more body in the snare being retained when all of this different tonality interacts. Subtle difference, not a big deal.

Alright, so then the last thing that happens is that I summed the reverb and the dry signal together, and I bussed them out, and I do some pretty heavy compression. In this particular case, I’m using very fast attack, fast release compression. Very, very heavy ratio. It’s basically some limiting, and I’m using the limiter circuit that’s on the compressor as well. It’s a DBX 160SL.

I’m just driving into that limiter circuit just enough to get a little bit of that analog-y, modulation distortion. The final thing sounds like this.

[snare plays]

So, where we started…

[snare drum plays]

Where we ended.

[snare drum final plays]

Alright, so that snare is going to be part of my new Storyville drumkit, which I am in the process of making, and will hopefully be available pretty soon, but yeah! I hope that you learned something, and that’s where snares come from.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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