Mixing the snare drum correctly especially in hip hop plays an important part in the song as it tells the listener what’s important. If the snare is too loud than the rapper will sound like he’s behind the drum and if the snare is too soft than it’ll sound like the rapper is way in front of the drum. The first thing in mixing the snare is to decide how much in front or how much behind you want the snare to sound in relation to the vocals. The majority of hip hop songs have the rapper in front of the snare, though more experimental hip hop songs are now switching things around. Once you’ve figured that out, the next step is to just listen.
Listen to your song from a listener’s perspective. This means just sit back and enjoy your song. If you notice that the snare is too loud than it turn it down, if you notice that it is too quiet turn it up. But don’t specifically listen to the snare, listen to your song as one whole, because that’s what it is and what the listener is experiencing. You can use this same “trick” for every track in your song, but for the snare it is probably the most important since it is the sound most mixers second guess themselves on.
Okay that’s all fine and dandy Andre, but how do I eq my snare?
You really don’t have to eq your snare if you’ve already chosen a good sounding snare. Remember the first step to a great mix and probably a great song is great sound selection. If we start of with good ingredients, we can end up with a good meal. If we start of with expired chicken, how can we make a great chicken curry? If you do feel it necessary to make the snare sound more clearer you can start by doing a low pass filter. However, if you cut too much of the bottom end it will make the snare sound very weak. You want to be very surgical with your parametric eq when using it on the snare.
I picked a good snare, but I want it to have more snap?
If you want your snare to have a little more snap, pull out your compressor and start fiddling with the attack. Depending on the sound of your snare and how you manipulate the controls on your compressor, you can affect the sound of your snare and your whole song. I would recommend doing “artistic changes” before vocals are recorded rather than afterwards as the song may go in a completely different artistic direction just by changing the sound of the snare and you’ll have written a song to a completely different beat.
Can I add reverb to my snare?
Yes. And guess what their is no correct way to apply reverb to the snare. It all depends on the sound you’re going for. If you want to have a long reverb tails like most songs in the 1980’s had, be my guest. If you want to have no reverb like most hip hop songs had in the late 90s you can do that as well. There is no “right way” to mix, but you must mix your songs in a way that communicates your artistic vision.
Making a good song and getting a good mix is all about being able to translate what you hear in your head with what you put into your music making machine. What separates the best musicians from the rest of us is that they are able to make their music sound almost exactly the way they hear it in their head. My goal as a mixing engineer is to try and get what I hear in my head to match with what I am mixing to about 80 to 90%. Depending on how well a song is recorded it can be difficult to get it over 70%, but if the song is only at 50% of its potential, closing the gap on how it wants to sound and how it actually sounds is a big win, regardless of the margin.