4 ways to instantly improve your claps and snares

1. Sample Selection

Claps and snares can be a nuisance when you come to the mixing stage of your track; they’re either popping out of your monitors, flat or have no groove, among many other common problems. I’m often sat puzzled after hours of using all of my processing power trying to enhance a clap/snare how the end result can be so poor. The truth is, if the samples we select don’t initially work with the mix, it’s going to be an enduring and often impossible task making them work with processing. Good sample selection is essential if you want to make your snare/clap sound professional in your mix and a lot of patience is required to look through your sample library before you find the right one. If you listen to a lot of the music in the genre you are producing, you should know what kind of clap/snare your track calls for and it will be audibly apparent when a sample you select doesn’t fit in with the mix. For novices though, my general advice would be to listen for samples that are in the same key as your track and that work well with surrounding instruments, so avoiding samples that mainly share the same low end content as your kick, or mask your hi-hats for example.

2. Layering

Dance music was predominantly created to make people ‘dance’, so relies on a heavy emphasis of groove and drive. By programming your claps to play slightly behind your snares you can introduce a sense of rhythm and create an impression that your track is moving even quicker than the tempo suggests. After finding a clap and a snare sample from your library that fits well in the mix, position your snare so that it is sat firmly on the beat, typically in dance music snare drums will occupy the 2nd and 4th beat of a loop, however position it to suit the genre you’re working in. Then position the clap so that it is just off the beat and behind the snare a couple of ticks, this should help enforce swing into your mix as well as fatten your snare sound. As simple as this technique is, bringing a clap slightly forward in time can really help accentuate the popular ‘snap’ sound that’s found on thousands of tracks, you can also experiment with the velocity of both samples so you are hearing more of the attack of the clap or the snap of the snare, depending on what you are going for.

3. Controlling Transients

I’m often asked, “How do I take the edge out of my claps/snares.” I’ve had the same problem and I’m sure we all have had it at some stage when our claps/snares sound far too harsh and are popping out at us in our fancy home studio. The best solution in my opinion is compression or limiting. Yes there are other ways around it such as transient modulators, EQ and de-essing but I just don’t think they work as well in my experience. Using a compressor with a fast attack setting or a limiter, we need to set a very fast attack and release time along with a high ratio. Then we reduce the threshold so that it’s just above the average signal level of the clap/snare aiming for up to a maximum of 6db of gain reduction. I am not giving away specific settings because I feel you should experiment yourself, as settings will vary on every track. We use quick settings so the compressor captures each transient and brings their level down, this is important so they don’t have so much attack, therefore making the body of the snare perceived considerably louder.

4. Equalization

There are no rules when using EQ for claps/snares but I will again give general settings to help you find your own unique methods of EQ. When layering claps and snares you will find that they will cover a lot of the frequency spectrum thus masking other instruments that have more importance in the mix. Although masking has its uses, we don’t want any instruments to become unclear in the mix, so we need to apply EQ cuts to remove any unnecessary frequency content in the clap/snare that may be clashing. To begin with we need to use a high pass filter to remove all the frequency content below around 130-140 Hz, this is because snares will often occupy a great deal of low end energy and as a result will conflict with the kick and the bass. Mixing is all about prioritizing, so we need to allow the kick and the bass to come to the forefront of the mix without becoming indistinct as they’re one of the most important aspects of any mix. To highlight the clap more in the mix and help both the snare and the clap sit better together we can use a notch cut on the snare where the attack of the clap resides or simply use a small decibel boost at around 5-10 KHz on the clap.

Try experimenting with EQ and only use these settings as a general guide. You will eventually find your own unique style that will help distinguish your tracks from the rest and this often leads to the success of many producers.


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