Posted on 07. Mar, 2016 by Daniel Duskin (Record Producer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer) in RecordingPart of a series on getting a professional snare without samples while mixing.
It’s no secret that how you tune a drum hugely effects the sound.
I can’t tell you how tight or loose to tune this drum, since that depends entirely on the style of music, and your personal preference. However, I might be able to help guide you enough to avoid going too far in either direction of what you’re looking for.
Learn How To Listen
You should take a moment to listen to some of your favorite mixes with a snare sound you love. Try to focus on the high frequencies, and the low frequencies of that snare separately.
If the snare sound you are listening to is a bit extreme or unusual, it may be more difficult to replicate something similar to that sound. For starters, you might want to listen to something with a good snare that sounds natural.
As the snare is first struck, you should hear a pop. Immediately following this there should be sustained high and low frequencies.
After that initial pop, the high frequencies could contain a ping or ring, and possibly a fizz or buzz. A Snare’s fizz and buzz come from the rattling snares that are stretched across the bottom head. Any ping or ring comes from the outer parameter of the top head.
In the low frequencies, there should be a short thud. Listen to different mixes and try to identify that quick low frequency burst. This is important, because we usually tend to conscientiously focus on the high-end, and neglect the low-end, not knowing that the low-end is crucial [ often sub - conscientiously ] to the total snare sound.
Let’s Start Tuning!
Make all of these adjustments while listening to the snare drum in the room—not in the headphones or over the studio monitors, just yet.
Check The Bass
If the snare is tuned too high, there will be very little lower frequency punch at all, and interestingly that good low frequency punch also looses its power if it’s tuned too high or too low. If you like a snare that’s tuned higher, that’s fine—just train your ear to hear the lower frequency thud when it’s tuned high, because it will help you better understand the total sound of your snare and how to get the sound you want.
The low frequencies are unfortunately easy to overlook. If you lose too much low-frequency punch, you will not feel the drum, and compression will not react properly (or at all). Compression is a very important part of a good snare sound—I’ll discuss that more in #5.
Have The Tools
If you have a drum tuning gauge and you need a good starting point, 85psi is usually a good starting point for the top head, and 90psi is a nice start for the bottom head. That’s fairly tight, but not extremely so.
Make sure that the snare is fairly flat—not tilted—before using a tension gauge, to make the that the psi value is accurate.
The mid and high frequencies of a snare drum are usually what we notice the most. Besides the initial pop when the snare is struck with a drum stick, you’re going to want to decide if you want a sustained snare, a dead snare, or somewhere in between.
When a snare’s top head is tuned tight, it can ring—or even ping.
If that ringing—or pinging—helps define your sound, you can enhance it by using a new head, keeping the head clean (no tape or dampers), and making sure the lugs are evenly tight (a tuning gauge can help with this).
If the ring/ping is too much, you can apply tape or dampers to the outer perimeter of the top head until the desired suppression of ring and ping is achieved. Keep in mind that you can suppress much of this with noise gates in the mix, but you can’t add ring back to the snare later on.
Most of the high frequency content that makes it noticeably definable as a snare drum is the buzz of the snares stretched across the bottom head rattling after the drum is struck.
The tighter the strainer of the snares, the faster and shorter they rattle. The looser the strainer is set, the slower and longer the snares rattle.
Modern snare sounds often have a tighter strainer, and older snare sounds often have a looser strainer—plenty of exceptions apply.