In this article, we will explore how you can use a compressor to create unique snare sounds from the exact same source material. From short and close to long and resonant, we learn (and hear) how you can use different combinations of attack and release settings to get the sound you are looking for.
A quick update on compression
As a reminder, we learned in previous articles about how a compressor works. Most compressors have some adjustable settings. Usually include these threshold (at what signal level the compressor starts operating), relationship (how much gain reduction is applied when the signal exceeds the threshold), attack (how long to wait after the threshold is reached to start using compression), and release (how long after the signal falls below the threshold until the compressor stops working).
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A brief comment, I have circled a rather aggressive threshold on all these examples, so it is easier to hear how the attack and release settings affect the compression.
Slow attack. Fast release.
A slow attack setting on your compressor will allow more of the transient snap through and maintain the snare’s natural decay. With this setting, we take some distance from the transient, but let much of it through to maintain energy. Take a listen below.
Quick attack. Fast release.
A quick attack combined with a quick release can tame the first crack in a snare and bring out its resonance.
Quick attack. Slow release.
A quick attack combined with a slow release achieves the effect of a much less snarky sound. This dampens the attack and also keeps the resonance more controlled.
Slow attack. Slow release.
A slow attack and release combination let more transient energy through, while the compressor continues to dampen more of the falsification of the snare.
Medium Attack. Medium release.
Last but not least, here is an example of a compressor with a relatively fast to medium attack time combined with a relatively moderate release. At first glance, it sounds a lot like quick attack / quick release – but listen carefully for the nuance of the tone. Also listen to the falsification of the snare and how it compares in terms of depth.
Choosing the right compression settings is often dictated by your music style and performance. A great rock ballad may require the greatest snare sound you have ever heard, while a rap or hip hop track may need something super tight. Your release setting can also be used in conjunction with the track tempo, so that the compressor feels as if it almost slips with the rhythm.
Experiment with some compression settings and see what you discover. It’s the best way to prepare when the time comes to mix your next track.