Posted on 11. Mar, 2016 by Daniel Duskin (Record Producer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer) in EQ, Mixing, Ssh!Part of a series on getting a professional snare without samples while mixing.
I can’t tell you “exactly” how to master equalization to get a killer professional sound, but I can give you some guidance and techniques to help you find the way while mixing and mastering. Let’s start with EQ’ing the top mic.
Learn The Frequencies
You should—at least once for educational purposes—open up a real time analyzer and look at what frequencies the snare you have recorded (or are recording) produces. If you want a great free plugin for this task, check out Voxengo’s SPAN plugin.
While looking at the RTA meter, find the resonant frequency of the drum. This is usually somewhere between 100 and 800 hertz (higher or lower with some extreme / unusual snare tuning).
Take note of that resonant frequency, because it’s going to be a very important factor in any EQ moves you make.
Also, use that RTA meter to figure out where the lowest frequency area is—usually somewhere between 100 and 800 hertz (though it could be higher with extremely tight snares). You’ll want to take note of this as well, because that information will also be a very important factor in any EQ moves you make. Then, use your RTA meter to look for any peaks in the mid-highs, between 1kHz and 6kHz. Take note of this if you see anything significant.
Finally, use your RTA meter to figure out where the high frequencies start to roll off. Take note, because you can use this information to control the brilliance and warmth of your snare.
EQ’ing Low End
Before I guide you on what to do with this information you have noted from the RTA meter, I should mention the only EQ move I almost always make.
I almost always apply a high-pass filter around 100Hz, and a bell boost of about +1-3dB between 100 and 250 hertz.
Anything below 100Hz isn’t usually produced by the snare itself, or is useless in the mix, and a small bass boost between 100 and 250 hertz increases just enough energy to help feel the drum and get my bus compressors working as I feel that they should.
EQ’ing the Mid’s & L0w-Mid’s
If you want that late 90′s, early 2000′s “hit me right between the eyes” (ouch) snare sound, you might want to leave it alone, or maybe even boost that area a little—be careful boosting this area, as it could turn into a pile of garbage real quick! In most cases, you’re probably going to want to either leave it alone, or apply a small notch. I cover snare compression more in the previous section here.
Expanding on that bass boost; if you look at the information you noted about the lowest frequency, you can further refine this. Anything below the lowest frequency produced can be removed with the high-pass filter, and you can try some boosting at that same frequency to give some weight to the lowest usable area.
When it comes to the resonant frequency in the low-mids, what you do with that—if anything at all—depends on what you are going for (how big the resonant peak is), and what sound you are going for. If you want a big classic snare sound, you might want to notch some of that resonant frequency out to fill out the spectrum.
EQ’ing The Mids
The mid-high frequency area needs to be handled with care—if you’re unsure, you should probably just leave it alone. You can use the information you noted about this range to learn what’s going on in that range, but you’ll probably want to experiment by sweeping a bell boost across this range to find any area you want to boost or reduce. Boosting this area can easily give a false sense of improvement, so be sure to gain-stage by lowering the volume after boosting a frequency to prevent the chance of faking yourself out. If you do any boosting in this area, it usually shouldn’t end up being any more than a couple decibels at most—exceptions certainly apply.
Remember, a low-mid frequency boost around the resonate area will usually not provider a better snare drum sound, and a little notching in that same region can do wonders so much of the time. As always, expcetions apply.
EQ’ing The Highs
Finally, let’s deal with the high frequency range that begins to roll off. Boosting this area can give the snare a more open sound, while rolling off just above the same region will make it sound warmer. I’ve often found that a low-pass filter somewhere between 10kHz and 13kHz combined with a high shelf boost of just a decibel or two at—or just below—the region that starts to roll off naturally can open up the snare without making it sound brittle (the low-pass will help prevent brittleness).