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How the heck do you mix SNARE and HI-HAT?!

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Everyone loves feeling the kick and bass on a loud speaker system, but let’s give some love to snares and high hats, huh? Think of that Michael Jackson snare in Billie Jean, or Beat It. Think how much character resides in those snares. I’m going to teach you how to process great sounding snares, and how to get them to sit well with your hi-hats.

The first thing you should think about when producing a track, is “Is this the right sample for this song?” Countless times, I’ve found myself dumping 10-15 minutes into tweaking a snare, and then finally just swapping out the sample, finding instant perfection. What it comes down to is the feel you’re going for.

Once you find a sample that’s pretty close to what you’re going for, think about modifying it to fit the track. Some key areas of snares you should think about are 400-600hz (body/drum), 2-4k (crunch), 4-8k (snap). These broad frequency points are where you should be thinking about adjusting. A great technique to use is splitting your snare into 3-4 partitions by using a perfect-band plugin, like an Ozone imager, to separate the snare into workable, tweakable regions. Simply set the regions, and set up a track for each region, soloing each region as you go along. Need more distortion in the snap area? Pull up the track with the band set to that region, and put a saturator on that track. This will let the body of your snare hit clean, but let the top end sparkle.

Another trick I like to use for snares is tasteful panning. I don’t like my snares to sit dead mono, unlike a lot of producers. I actually prefer to pan them opposite the hi-hat (maybe 5-10%). I find this to replicate the experience of playing the drum set as if I were the drummer, where my hi-hat probably sits slightly left of my snare. To further exaggerate this, I will often times use an imager to spread out the 4-8khz range, and give the snap of the snare more spread.

Hi-hats can be tricky. Jaycen Joshua says to keep hi-hats loud, and on top of the mix to add perceived loudness to the mix. I totally agree with this sentiment, with the one reservation that mono hi hats are lame! I find that a hi-hat, no matter how nifty the pattern, gets old when it’s dead center throughout the whole mix, and I usually pan my hats 10-20% left or right.

What’s great about the hi-hat is that nothing else in the mix, other than the sparkly end of vocals, really gets in the way! What’s not great, is that some of what goes on in the 10khz+ region of the mix is super annoying to the ear. Consider taming 15-16khz on the hats (and snare!) by cutting 3-6db out with an EQ. This will usually have the effect of pushing the sound back into the speakers, so be aware of that, and if that’s not something you’re looking for, disregard this trick. I have found that by getting rid of the dog-whistle frequencies, I’m able to pump the track louder in the end of the mix.

Hopefully, with these few tips, you’re able to take your drums game to the next level. Be sure to check out my other blog posts on “Why Your Drums Don’t PUNCH” to learn how to bus drums in an effective way!