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How to Manipulate Snare Drum Attack and Sustain with Parallel Compression


Hey guys Matthew Weiss here at Alright this tutorial is gonna be really cool. It was inspired by a conversation with another engineer. Another really great engineer named Jason JJ Boogie Reichert. And we were talking about parallel compression, and I sort of mentioned that traditionally most people think of parallel compression as something that involves bringing the sustain of the sound forward and making the sound thicker and more present. But you can actually use parallel compression in the opposite way as well. You can use it to exaggerate the attack of something or conversely make it thinner or more transient driven. I’m going show you show to do both with a snare drum. So let’s give a lesson to our snare here.

Now I have a couple of those preset little things here and I’m gonna throw them in to the mix and you will hear what they do. The first one is boosting up the sustain. Here we go. Before. After. Now both of these would have different places in different contexts. It really depends on what you’re trying to do. Let me break everything down. The one with the release you notice that the release isn’t just filling up the sustain of the snare it’s actually got a rhythm to it. It’s going, “schoom,” like that.

The way you do that effect and I’ll solo it is you set a very low threshold and you set a very fast attack and you set a release that you time. So in this case it’s 60 milliseconds to do that “schoom” kinda sound. It’s just a very two-dimensional, kinda trashy sound. You can have a very long release. It doesn’t really bring out the sustain it’s kinda a more natural sound for a subtler effect but I kinda like it here because it’s like there’s a sort of timing and pulling motion. Schoom. Schoom that kind of a thing.

So I can use that not only to thicken the snare but to create a little bit of a groove thing going on and if I can kill two birds with one stone them birds will be dead. I’m really tired just bear with me. The next one is the attack sound. Yes that is with a compressor. The way I’m doing that is again with a very low threshold but this time I’m using a longer attack. 33 milliseconds I mean really you can go longer than that. You can go up to 50 milliseconds or even longer but the point is the compressor is reacting too slowly to catch the initial attack of the snare. But if you set the threshold low enough so that it will catch the sustain of the snare and you set the release slow enough so that the sustain doesn’t come back up.

In this case it’s 250 milliseconds. So that is how you create an isolated attack sound. Alright so whats cool about this? Either way whether your bringing up the sustain or bringing up the attack it allows you to A. Have control over the shape of your sound which can be very useful and B. It actually allows you to affect the tonality of just the sustain or just the attack. So let me show you an example I know this is kinda a longer tutorial but let me show you an example. Going back to the sustain one. Let’s say I really want that shhh noise to come out. What I can do is I can grab an EQ. Now I have that higher pitch coming out. I can blend that in so it would sound like this. So you get that rhythmic pull you sort of get an added extra little bit of dimension to the snare and that can be cool.

Lets say I want the attack to be a lot heavier. Well I’m using a parallel effect let’s throw on a harmonic sort of a thing like some distortion and let’s make it a dark heavy kind of sound. That’s pretty cruddy right? Alright let’s bring that in. Now of course I would use these effect subtlety just to add either weight to the attack or a little extra groove in the sustain or even both. The skies the limit you can experiment. A lot of these types of styles of effects really translate well into the EDM world but they also translate really well into the hip hop world.

Ultimately, the idea is this. You can isolate individual parts of your sound shape even if it’s not a snare drum or anything like that simply by logician through where the attack lives and how the sustain is happening setting your compressor to isolate that sound. And then you have a whole world of options. Alright guys I hope that you learned something and post comments. Tell me things that you might do to a unique in whatever the context might be like I got horn stabs and I really want the horn stabs to be heavy and weighty but I don’t want them to be in the way of the mix.

So I’ll set up a parallel compression thing to isolate the attack of the horn and I’ll use some EQ to boost up the low-end so when it hits, it hits really weighty and then it’s done by the time the sustains getting in so it’s not cluttering up the mix. That’s a great use for this kind of technique.


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:

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