Snare drums are popular, versatile drums found in many musical genres. Mixing the snare drum often means using EQ in some fashion. When it comes to EQing snare drums, there are no simple step-by-step instructions; every mix is unique. However, there are certain considerations we should take into account when EQing the snare, which is what this article is all about.
Before we go any further, I should state that there are no hard rules with EQ or any other mixing process. The tips mentioned in this article are simply suggestions and techniques worth considering when EQing snare drums. No procedures work 100% of the time, and every mix is unique in its own needs.
Here are 11 pro tips for EQing snare drum:
- Consider the musical genre and the role of the snare drum in the mix
- Consider how the snare drum was recorded
- Always A/B test
- EQing snare drum in the context of the mix
- Eliminating low-end rumble
- Boosting the body
- Boosting the attack
- Cutting “boxiness”
- Consider reducing the top-end
- Finding unruly resonances
- A note on EQing multiple snare mics together
Let's discuss each of these tips in more detail to give you important considerations when EQing snare drum in your mixes.
If you're just starting out in your mixing journey (and even if you've been mixing for a while), I think you'll dig my 55 favourite music mixing tips, which you can check out after reading articles in in the following link: 55 Music Mixing Tips For Beginners (What I Wish I Knew)
Consider The Musical Genre And The Role Of The Snare Drum In The Mix
The first tip I have when it comes to EQing the snare (and any other tracks) is to consider the role of the snare in the music along with the music's genre.
It's often the case in popular that the snare holds down the song's backbeat. In other words, it covers beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 time.
In other cases, the snare is much busier. Consider the fast blast beats of some metal genres or the intricate brush techniques of many jazz songs.
We may want to consider EQing the snare differently depending on its role in the music.
For example, the straight-2-and-4-(plus-fills)-snare could benefit from a boost in attack to help it cut through the mix. The blast beat will likely benefit from a bit of extra cutting in the low-end to reduce the low-end build-up as the snare is struck in rapid succession. The brushed snare in a jazz recording may not demand any EQ (common in jazz) or perhaps a gentle boost to bring out the sound of the brushes in the mix.
Additionally, the typical mix aesthetic tends to shift from genre to genre.
We'll often record or sample a snare drum to suit the song in the recording and production phases of the music production process. However, it's worth considering the genre and the role of the snare drum within the song before we reach for EQ.
I should reiterate that no two mixes are the same, but we can still draw similarities within genres.
I've given just a few examples worth considering. Give thought to the genre of music you're mixing and study a few references if you need to to get a better idea of potential EQ moves on the snare drum.
Consider How The Snare Drum Was Recorded
It's worth investigating how the snare drum was recorded if you're already in contact with the recording engineer and/or drummer. If you're recording yourself, you'll want to consider how the snare was recorded when making EQ moves.
Perhaps the first point we can cover in this tip is whether the snare was actually recorded as part of a kit or if it was sampled or synthesized.
When choosing sampled snares or synthesizing them ourselves, we typically have a lot of control in ensuring the snare is the right fit for the song. However, we may still have to shape it significantly with EQ. Consider any problematic frequencies worth cutting and any characteristic frequencies worth boosting.
Now, when recording a snare as part of a real-world kit, we often have either a single mic at the top of the snare or, alternatively, a top and bottom mic. Additionally, the snare is likely picked up loud and clear by any overhead microphones above the kit.
It's important that we align these different microphones phase-wise to get a strong snare transient. As you may know, EQ has the side effect of frequency-dependent phase shifting (coinciding with the frequencies affected by the EQ).
Therefore, we should be cognizant of the phase relationships and the differences in EQ between the different microphones that pick up the snare. It's often best to, at the very least, have the same high-pass filter settings on the top and bottom snare mics to help maintain the transient energy of the snare (which can be negatively affected by phase alterations).
Other than that, it's worth considering how the snare sounds through each mic and balancing the tracks appropriately. It's sometimes the case that simple balancing will get us the snare sound the song needs.
Other times, especially when there's significant bleed in the other mics and washing-out in the overheads, we will have to really drive the snare track upward and perhaps shape it with EQ to sound good in the mix.
It's important to note that close-miking generally doesn't sound “natural”. How could it? It's impossible to listen to an entire kit with our ears that close to each drum. So then, if we must increase the close-miked snare tracks, the mix may benefit from some amount of EQ shaping to make the snare fit correctly.
Always A/B Test
A/B testing is one of the best habits you can get into when processing anything in a mix, let alone the EQ of a snare drum.
A/B testing effectively tests two options (option A and B) and compares the two to make an informed decision on which is better. We can A/B test by turning the snare's EQ on and off (bypassing it) or by turning different bands within the EQ on and off.
Whenever we make any EQ adjustments on a snare drum, it's worth A/Bing them against the original signal and listening to whether the EQ improves the sound of the snare in the overall mix or not.
When A/B testing, bypass the EQ and listen for about 10 seconds. Turn it back on and listen for another 10 seconds. Repeat the process and decide whether to keep the EQ, readjust it, or get rid of it.
The human auditory system tends to adjust to whatever we're listening to. When mixing, we can quickly lose perspective and our objective decision-making skills. As we adjust parameters to achieve balance and any other goals in the mixing process, we can quickly lose our frame of reference of what good snare drum EQ actually is.
So use A/Bing to your advantage when EQing the snare drum of a mix, and keep this tip in mind as you make your way through the rest of the tips in this article.
To learn more about A/B testing, check out my article A/B Testing & Its Importance In Mixing (With 5 Best Tests).
EQing Snare Drum In The Context Of The Mix
EQing in the context of the mix applies to all elements, not just snares.
It's critical to remember that a mix is about all the elements coming together rather than each individual element by itself. Of course, we want each element to sound good and have an appropriate level of presence in the mix, but it's no use perfecting snare drums in solo only to have them sit awkwardly in the greater context of the mix.
In other words, we must mix and process the snare drum in relation to everything else in the mix.
Before moving on, the exception here is for general clean-up. If there is particularly problematic resonance, noise or bleed in the signal, it's likely easiest to address these concerns with EQ in solo. However, the overarching goal of mixing is to have everything work together, which means we should ultimately EQ the snare in the context of the mix (if we EQ it at all).
Considering the mix as a whole, it's often the case that the individual tracks will be processed to improve the technical and emotional aspects of the music at the expense of their individual sonic characteristics. Don't sweat making the snare drum sound “worse” on its own, so long as your processing improves the overall mix.
The denser the mix, the more “unflattering” processing we may end up applying to individual elements to have them fit perfectly in the mix.
I have a YouTube video on the importance of mixing in the context of the mix rather than in solo. Check it out here:
Remember to A/B your EQ decisions by turning the EQ on and off and listening critically to recalibrate your ears.
If the EQ on the snare drum improves the mix, keep it. If it doesn't, don't hesitate to readjust the EQ parameters or even get rid of the EQ altogether.
Eliminating Low-end Rumble
Eliminating low-end rumble is an essential task in most mixes.
Low-end rumble refers to low-end frequency content that doesn't provide any musical information. It's the noise that muddies up the bass elements of the mix and eats away at precious headroom.
In addition to the typical culprits of mechanical noise (footsteps, ventilation, touching the mic or mic stand, traffic, etc.), I also typically group low-frequency electromagnetic interference in with low-end rumble. We can lump in kick drum bleed with the rest of this noise.
This low-frequency information isn't needed and is best eliminated altogether. This job is best accomplished with an EQ's high-pass filter.
Snare drums can often be high-pass filtered up to 60 – 100 Hz or above, especially if the kick drum is bleeding/spilling into the signal.
Related article: Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Kick Drums
Be careful not to filter too high, though. It's common for the snare's body and fundamental to be around 200 Hz, but high-pass filtering all the way up to 200 Hz may cause phase issues and eat away at the snare drum's punchiness and body. Listen critically and set your HPF lower than what may look appropriate.
To learn more about high-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
Boosting The Body
Oftentimes the “body” of the snare (where the bulk of the high-amplitude frequencies reside) will be between 150 and 300 Hz. To get more strength from the snare in the mix, try finding the appropriate centre frequency for boosting within this region.
Boosting The Attack
The “attack” of the snare (the region where a great deal of transient energy resides) is typically between 2.5 – 3.5 kHz. Try boosting within this region to get more presence front he snare in the mix.
If the snare sounds “boxy,” try cutting the same 250 – 500 Hz, but understand that there's likely a lot of body in this range. Tread carefully.
Consider Reducing The Top-end
Reducing or completely filtering out the very top-end of the snare mic signal may be warranted if there's too much bleed from the hi-hats and other cymbals.
Solo the snare track and pay special attention to how much high-end bleed is present from the cymbals. Tread lightly, if at all, when cutting the top-end (I suggest a high-shelf cut with a cutoff frequency as far above 8 kHz as we can get away with).
Always A/B test to hear if these EQ moves help bring out the snare in the mix (relative to its bleed) or simply make it sound dull.
If the hi-hat bleed is particularly bad, check how the snare sounds in the overheads and consider muting the hi-hat mic (if applicable). In bad cases, we may even opt to use a low-pass filter to eliminate the snare's top-end completely.
Finding Unruly Resonances
Snare drums are complex and loud. Resonances can arise from the drum itself due to it being struck and from mechanical vibrations coming from nearby drums. Resonances are also sometimes present in the room that can cause annoying ringing in the snare drum track.
Even when a snare drum is tuned properly, there is a potential for some resonant frequencies to poke out a bit too much relative to the others, creating a distracting resonant frequency (or multiple frequencies).
If you hear annoying resonances in the snare recording, you can seek them out and notch them down using what I call “the parametric sweeping technique”.
Take common technique takes a parametric EQ, boosts a narrow band (6 dB or more is a good starting point), and sweeps the band across the frequency spectrum. As the resonant frequency is boosted even more by the EQ, it will really poke its ugly head through the mix. Once found, we can adjust the gain of the EQ band to the negative and notch the frequency from the signal.
Always A/B test your findings by toggling the EQ on and off. Repeat the process if you didn't quite find the right frequency (re-doing the step) or if there are other resonant frequencies worth addressing (by introducing another band in the parametric EQ).
I should add that we should never go looking for offensive frequencies for the sake of it. Boosting a narrow band of parametric EQ and sweeping it across the spectrum will make every boosted frequency sound bad. However, it can be an effective strategy to find resonances that we hear before applying any EQ.
A Note On EQing Multiple Snare Mics Together
It's a common recording technique to mic the top and bottom of the snare.
The top mic picks up much of the snare's attack, body and resonance, while the bottom mic captures the sound of the rattling snare wires underneath. Together (the bottom mic signal often requires its polarity to be inverted), the two signals create a better, more sonically interesting snare sound in the mix.
Once the phase is aligned properly (via polarity flipping and subtle nudging—if necessary), we may want to EQ each of the signals to get the best characteristics of each mic and the best blend of the two signals.
To learn about phase and polarity, be sure to check out my article Audio: What Are The Differences Between Polarity & Phase?
We may want to boost the region around 3 – 5 kHz to bring out the character of the snare wires in the bottom mic and work around these frequencies in the top mic.
As mentioned earlier, it's also important to consider phase shift when EQing the two snare mics, especially at the low end. It's often best to treat both signals with the same high-pass filter settings to avoid phase shifting between them in the all-important low-mids.
I have a video detailing EQ's side effect of phase shifting. Check it out here:
Other EQ Tips For Common Elements
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Bass Guitar
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Electric Guitars
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Acoustic Guitars
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Vocals
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Kick Drums
- Top 7 Best Tips For EQing Drum Overheads
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Pianos & Keyboards
- Top 11 Best Tips For EQing The Mix Bus
Other related articles:
• Complete Guide To Audio Equalization & EQ Hardware/Software
• Top 11 Best EQ/Equalization Tips For Mixing (Overall)
• Best Microphones For Miking Snare Drum
• Top 11 Best Drum Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best Online Resources To Learn How To Play Drums
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