Posted on 05. Mar, 2016 by Daniel Duskin (Record Producer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer) in Mixing
You can think of compression applied as mostly affecting the attack and sustain of the drum. The slower the attack speed on the compressor, the more attack and punch of the drum will come through. The shorter the sustain/decay of the compressor on a drum, the longer the snare drum will sustain. You can use these settings to control how much snare attack and sustain cuts through the mix.
While compression is a big part of a modern snare sound, the more you compress this drum, the smaller it will sound.
The trick is to keep the ratio fairly low and/or set the threshold so that you only get a reduction of a few decibels at most.
Some tried and true compressors for the snare drum include the SSL channel strip compressor, the Neve V/88R channel strip compressor, the Empirical Labs Distressor, and the dbx 160. If you want lots of snare pop and punch, I highly recommend a dbx 160 variant, and if you want a more filled out snare sound you might want to try an Empirical Labs Distressor.
Most of the compression applied to the snare usually sounds best when applied to the drum bus, or mix bus—not directly to the snare channel.
How the snare makes the rest of the mix react during bus compression is an extremely important part of any snare sound in a mix. This simply means that instead of focusing heavily on compression of the snare on the snare channel, it’s often more beneficial to adjust the way the snare sounds in the mix by adjusting the compression settings on the drum bus and/or the mix bus.
The snare will have to be loud enough to make those bus compressors react, or you won’t hear much of any change in the sound of the snare in the mix.