Before learning to mix and master my own tracks, I never quite understood the purpose of dynamic range compression. By immersing myself into my craft, I began to hear the effect it was having on my mixes and after months of tweaking, I had finally developed my default compression settings. Today, I’ll be sharing these compressor settings for snare with you using Logic Pro X’s stock compressor.
Of course, you can apply my teachings to any compressor plug-in and they’ll work with any DAW. However, you’ll see that Logic Pro X’s stock compressor is the perfect teaching tool! By understanding the different elements of your snare’s sound, you’ll also understand what we’re looking to get out of our compressor. It’s much simpler than you think and once you’ve completed the tutorial, you’ll be set for life!
- The compressor is one of the most important mixing tools
- My personal compressor settings for snare
- Using your compressor plug-ins in multiple stages
- Compressor settings for snare using your DAW’s stock plug-ins
The compressor is one of the most important mixing tools
Before getting into my personal compressor settings for snare, we need to understand what we’re striving for. The general problem when mixing percussive instruments is that certain elements will get lost in the mix. So, how can we correct this?
Firstly, we’ll need to make the distinction between the “transient” and “sustaining” elements of our snare drum.
In layman’s terms, the transient is the loudest/most percussive element of any sound (hitting, slapping, strumming, etc…). The sustaining element encompasses the rest of the sound or the “tail” (rattling, pitches, ringing, etc…)
If you were listening to your snare by itself, you’d most likely hear all of these elements, BUT…
Once you start adding more tracks to the mix, you’ll notice that you begin to lose most if not all of the sustaining elements.
The compressor’s primary function when it comes to percussive instruments like snare drums is to balance the transients with the sustaining elements. This is accomplished by “compressing” the transients which makes the sustaining elements sound louder.
We then compensate for this reduction in amplitude by adding more gain and there you have it!
The resulting snare sound will sound bigger, fatter and punchier. We’re not actually altering the snare in any way though, we’re simply bringing out more of the elements we’d like to hear.
Now that we have this basic understanding, we’re ready to get to work!
My personal compressor settings for snare
If you’re still in the stages of developing your own sound and processes, studying someone else’s can certainly help you get started. I started out immitating others, but at some point I ended up with something that was completely my own.
Instead of just giving you my preset, I’ll also be explaining why I made the decisions I did.
- Input Gain: I usually leave this parameter untouched. If your signal isn’t strong enough, you may need to boost in order to trigger your compressor. This can also be achieved by reducing the “threshold”, but it shouldn’t get to the point where you’re working at the extremities (0 dB/-50 dB).
- Threshold: I’ll usually set this parameter to -20 dB by default, but you’ll always need to tweak this one. It depends on the signal you’re working with and where you’d like the compression to begin. In other words, it’s subjective.
- Ratio: During my first compression stage (more on this later), I always work with a 4:1 ratio. It’s not too subtle and not too strong; the perfect intensity in my opinion. Raising this parameter will simply result in more compression.
- Make Up: This parameter is dependent on the amount of compression you’d like to make up for. I find that +1.5 dB works best for me in most cases, but it may differ depending on your where you’ve set your “threshold” and “ratio”. The same effect can be achieved by boosting the “output gain”.
- Auto Gain: I personally never use this parameter.
- Knee: When it comes to percussion, I usually give myself a “hard-knee”. It’s a subtle difference from a “soft-knee”, but I find it suits the transient response of percussive instruments better.
- Attack: In case you hadn’t noticed, this parameter probably has the most impact on the resulting sound of your compression. Since we’re looking to compress the transients of our snare, we want to set it relatively fast. I usually set it somewhere between 5 ms and 10 ms.
- Release: In most cases, I usually set my release-time to “auto”. Other compressors may refer to this as “adaptive release”. It makes life easier!
- Limiter: I simply enable this module in case anything clips (it shouldn’t though). I leave the “threshold” at 0 dB.
- Distortion: This parameter is completely optional, but I find it really helps my snare cut through the mix. It’s the equivalent of using an additional saturation plug-in. I usually set it to “soft clipping”.
- Mix: This parameter can be useful for parallel compression, but I never use it during my first compression stage.
- Output Gain: If I ever need to boost my signal at the backend, I’ll do it using this parameter. It’s better to use this rather than boosting your channel’s volume fader past unity gain.
And there you have it!
As you can see, it’s nothing complicated and once you understand the basics, you can easily adapt these settings for any situation.
But what did I mean by my first compression stage?
Using your compressor plug-ins in multiple stages
The compressor settings for snare we discussed in the previous section are what I use for my first compression stage. Basically, this is the first time my snare drum interacts with any form of compression.
However, you’ll realize that professionals often use compression in multiple stages for various reasons.
For example, I always route my snare (along with my other drums) to what we refer to as a “sub-mix”. If you’re familiar with the mastering process, this can be seen as the mastering bus for the drum kit exclusively.
Basically, you’ll want to route your individual drums to the same auxiliary channel strip (I usually call it DRUM MIX).
It really facilitates the entire mixing process, you’ll see! In this channel strip, you’ll want to insert another compressor plug-in, but this one will have a different purpose.
This where most music producers will usually get into what I refered to as “parallel compression” a little earlier on.
If your compressor plug-in includes a “mix” parameter, you won’t need to create another bus. I personally use Vulf Compressor at this point because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard!
Hear the difference for yourself!
Vulf Compressor (100%)
It’s obviously exaggerated which is why you’ll need to adjust the mix to blend the two sounds together.
That’s what parallel compression is all about!
This is where I usually stop though. The only other compressor my drums will experience is the incredibly subtle compressor on my master bus.
Compressor settings for snare using your DAW’s stock plug-ins
Besides the use of Vulf Compressor, you can clearly see that your DAW’s stock compressor plug-in will do the trick. However, Logic Pro X’s compressor does have some extra features (it’s like the swiss-army knife of compressors).
Once you understand and hear how these parameters affect your snare in the mix, it’ll become second-nature.
We’re simply reducing the dynamic range of your snare so we can “squeeze” all its elements into the mix. As you add more tracks, the so-called tunnel becomes narrower and narrower.
Each instrument will inevitably begin to compete with one another, so we must use compression. There’s no other way!
As you develop your ears and your style, you may begin to deviate from the compressor settings for snare I’ve shared today. That’s okay! I encourage you to experiment and find the sound you hear in your head.
I hope you’ve found the knowledge you were looking for in this tutorial. It’s not as complcated as you thought it’d be, right? If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to post them in the comments section and I’ll get back to you shortly!
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