The Secret To Huge Snare Sounds: Arrangement
Here’s one of those million-dollar questions: what’s the secret of an enormous-sounding snare? Well, from a mix engineering perspective, one answer lies in realizing that every mix has only a limited amount of headroom and the audible spectrum has limits that are fairly clearly defined. This means that the fewer things you have going on in your mix during snare hits, the bigger you can get the snare to sound.
While there’s a certain amount you can do to apply this principle while mixing (applying keyed ducking, for example), by far the best time to clear the desired space is during the arrangement process. Probably the most common dodge for bands is to create some kind of riff or rhythm part which leaves a gap for the backbeat to pop through. A classic example of this is AC/DC’s hit “Back in Black,” but there are lots of more recent examples too: Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes” and Muse’s “Uprising” both use the idea extremely effectively.
The same concept can, of course, be applied to kick drum – an approach that’s used to death in dance music and which features centre-stage on that huge Kylie Minogue single “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.” In fact, it’s possible to extend the same principles to any instrument, although clearly it does get trickier to completely duck out the backing arrangement behind musical elements that are more sustained – you usually have to content yourself with just punching holes in specific conflicting parts.
Mike Senior is a professional engineer who has worked with Wet Wet Wet, The Charlatans, Reef, Therapy, and Nigel Kennedy. He has transformed dozens of amateur mixes for Sound On Sound magazine’s popular Mix Rescue column. As part of Cambridge Music Technology he also provides in-depth training courses and workshops specialising in the documented techniques of the world’s top producers. His new book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio is a down-to-earth mixing primer which shows how to achieve commercial-grade sonics within real-world project/college setups.
Photo from Flickr by Laura Bernhardt