Use (Mix) a Distortion Effect on a Snare Drum/Clap

Producers like to modify the sound of snare drum/claps to make it more personal, which we can do with audio distortion effects. However, using a distortion effect on a snare drum/clap can be hard since the resulted sound can easily become an unusable noise. Moreover, we need to place an equalizer after using one or more distortion effects, at least most of the time.

How to use (mix) a distortion effect on a snare drum/clap? We can commonly use distortion effects on our drum/clap with the following six steps:

  1. Place a tape saturation effect after our snare drum/clap.
  2. Optionally, place an overdrive, a distortion, or a clipper distortion effect before the tape saturation.
  3. Configure the distortion effect(s) like you want them to sound, but set the tape saturation to a subtle effect.
  4. Place after the tape saturation effect an equalizer.
  5. Set the equalizer on these settings:
    • the high-pass filter: 150 Hz, with a 12 dB per octave slope, Q 0.7
    • a parametric EQ: 400 Hz, Q 2.8, -3 dB
    • a parametric EQ: 800 Hz, Q 2.8, -3 dB
    • a parametric EQ: 1000 Hz, Q 2.8, +3 dB
    • a parametric EQ: 8000 Hz, Q 2.8, -3 dB
    • the low-pass filter: 12000 Hz, with a 12 dB per octave slope, Q 0.7
  6. Optionally, reconfigure the equalizer by changing one or more value(s) from -3 dB to -4 dB and the value +3 dB to +2dB.

This post explains first some things to keep in mind while reading this post, and then how some common distortion effects work. After that, this post explains how we can use distortion effects, and gives a practical and common equalization method. Also, this post explains a method of common distortion with equalizing , and gives at last some closing words.

Things to Keep in Mind

This section explains some things that you should keep in my mind while reading this post.

In this post is a distortion effect an audio distortion effect. Such an effect is the alteration of an audio signal that makes the audio signal noisier, which can be hearable. Furthermore, such alteration is usually unwanted, but here we use it as a musical effect.

I used the term harmonic here in this post, which means here a sound wave. So when something adds harmonics to a sound, we can see it as adding new sound waves.

Some things this post explains are not only for snare drums/claps but for every percussion. Therefore, it might good to know that every snare drum is a drum, and every drum is a percussion. Plus, every clap is a percussion.

A hand clap by a woman.

How Some Common Distortion Effects Work

This section explains the most common distortion effects used on percussions, with the why and how to use these effects.

Some distortion effects work by making audio clipping. Such clipping means that the audio volume of the sound is too high, so the audio hits a sort of a ceiling.

When audio is clipping, then on the parts where it clips, it also compresses the sound. So when our distortion effect is clipping, then we have also added compression to the sound.

As good as every distortion effect tool has its own set of knobs. Companies can give these distortion tools extra knobs or change/rename some of the knobs. However, this section explains only the most common knobs for such tools.

Overdrive, Distortion, and Clipping

The first three distortion effect types are overdrive, distortion, and clipping, which I all three like a lot. However, I don’t like the name “distortion” for a distortion effect type since it can be confusing. Also, I don’t like the name “clipping” for a distortion effect type since it can be confused with audio volume clipping.

We can use for multiple reasons the distortion effect types overdrive, distortion, and clipping. Reasons such as to rough up, adding filth, or add a little warmth to a percussion. Furthermore, the distortion effect tool can be analog or digital.

The analog version works (most of the time) in a way that it boosts the audio volume of a sound, so it starts clipping and the audio folds. This folding produces harmonics, which gives the sound a richer tone.

When the distortion effect tool is digital, like a plugin, then it can work in the same way as analog, but it doesn’t have to. It works in the way how it is programmed.

Drive Knob

With the drive knob, we can increase or decrease the distortion effect. Which means that when the effect we use is analog, then this knob controls how much of the audio volume gets boosted, with the amount of clipping.

By using the drive knob in small amounts, we can add a bit of warmth to the sound.

Tone Knob(s)

The tone knob(s) sets an equalizer with a high-pass filter, low-pass filter, or both. The classic versions of these distortion effect tools only had a low-pass filter.

We can use the low-pass filter, for example, to keep sound warm, rather than too bright by cutting high frequencies. Moreover, we can use the high-pass filter, for example, to cut the lower mid frequencies, so the sound doesn’t get there muddy.

It is common to skip this knob, and not to cut any frequencies with it, but using a separate equalizer effect after distorting is more common. A separate equalizer can have more options, and they can sound better.

A separate equalizer can control the full sound after the distortion. However, some (not all) built-in distortion equalizers can control only the distortion sound. So, the difference between the equalizers can be more than only better sound quality and more options.

Mix (Dry/Wet) Knob

Analog stompboxes (effect tools) can only be on or off. However, many plugins have a mix knob, which is sometimes called dry/wet. We can use this knob to blend the sound of the distortion effect with the original sound of the percussion.

The higher the amount of the mix knob, the more of the distortion effect sound the tool adds to the original sound percussion sound. Furthermore, that added sound makes the audio volume of the mixed sound higher.

Some plugins automatically lower the audio volume of the mixed sound when the volume becomes higher. However, in some plugins, we have to do such compensating of the volume manually.

Level and Gain Knob

Some tools have a level knob, and some tools have a gain knob, but both knobs do the same thing. We can use this knob to modify the audio volume so that we can make the volume higher or lower with it.

Bitcrusher

A bit-crusher is a distortion effect type that can produce two distinctive effects, and we can combine these effects if we want. These effects are:

  • reducing the sample-rate resolution of a sound
  • reducing the bit-rate of a sound

People often associate these two sound effects with the sound of the older analog drum machines, such as the LinnDrum and the Akai MPC60. Both these machines have a digital sound, and they use lower sample rates by which these digital sounds become tough and grainy.

When we use a bit-crusher at low settings, then we can make the sound of a percussion chunkier. Also, we then make the sound thicker, which the effect does by adding frequencies in the mid-range. Moreover, at the low settings, the highest frequencies get cut out.

Bit-rate (Resolution) Knob

The bit-rate knob is also called resolution. With this knob, we can reduce the digital bit-rate of a signal. As far as I know, this reducing is always from 24-bit (no reducing) down to 1-bit (maximal reducing).

When we have this knob set on 8-bit or lower, then the distortion effect has an added hearable background noise. Furthermore, when we have this knob set on 2-bit or lower, then the sound that we are distorting breaks up and splinter. 2-bit or lower is ideal for processing tight glitchy percussion, but in most other situations, it is not useful to use on a percussion.

Downsampling (Frequency) Knob

The downsampling knob is also called frequency, but the latter name is confusing, at least in my opinion. Furthermore, with this knob, we can reduce the sample-rate frequency of a sound. As far as I know, such reducing starts always from 44,100 Hz.

The more we reduce the sample-rate frequency, the more new harmonics the tool adds to the sound. Moreover, when we reduce the frequency enough, then the signal can break down completely.

Waveform Shape Knob

With the waveform shape knob, we can set the shape in which the tool decimates bits. The square folding is the most common and the one I almost always use. Furthermore, using square folding gives warm harmonics.

Tape Saturation

Tape saturation is a distortion effect type, which can produce the sound that we can get from making analog gear clipping. Such analog gear can be for example valve preamps and half-inch multitrack tape recorders.

Clipping from such analog gear is also known as saturation or soft-clipping. Soft-clipping is the same as clipping, but it sounds smoother than non-soft-clipping. Therefore, we can see soft-clipping as a smoother kind of the overdrive distortion effect.

We can add warmth and harmonic richness to a sound with this effect. Moreover, tape saturation can add a bit of an analog sound to a percussion.

Tape Saturation Knobs

The knobs of most tape saturation tools I know are to my opinion not worth to mention here. The reason is that these knobs look and work pretty much the same as the knobs from the overdrive, distortion, and clipping tools.

Using Distortion Effects

We can distort a percussion in an endless amount of different ways. However, most of these ways sound too bad and are probably unusable. Here follows some information and methods on how we can distort every percussion that sounds good to the opinion of many people.

First, we have to choose which distortion effect type(s) that we want to use. I recommend selecting the types from the section “How Some Common Distortion Effects Work” from above.

When we want to choose distortion effect types, then it can help to know some common uses of them, which are:

  • A common use of the overdrive, distortion, and clipping effects is to change a sound noticeably but not extreme.
  • Producers use the bit-crusher effect commonly by setting it on a 12-bit bit-rate and leave all the other knobs off/at default.
  • A common use of the tape saturation effect is to use it at subtle settings.

The Ordering of Distortion Effects

If we want to use more than one distortion effect on a percussion, then we have to keep in mind that the order in which we add the effects impacts the result. The sounds of the effects we use will sum up in the order that we use them.

It is called order picking, you should try it sometime.

For example, we use tape saturation as the first effect for adding a smooth analog harmonic warmth to the sound. Plus, we use overdrive as the second effect, which adds filth and roughness to a sound. Then we have a sound with a smooth tape saturation effect, but with an added filth and roughness on top of it.

If we use overdrive as the first effect and tape saturation as the second effect, then the result is pretty different. The result is a sound with an added filth and roughness, but with a smooth analog harmonic warmness over it. Most people prefer this second version of ordering distortion effects.

Stacking a Distortion Effect Type

We can stack distortion effects by adding two or more instances of the same distortion effect type after each other. Moreover, we can even add two or more instances of the same effect tool after each other.

Using two or more of the same distortion effect type after each other is not common, but we can at least consider it when:

  • The distortion effect that we use is not strong enough.
  • We want to combine different settings from one distortion effect.

If a distortion effect is not strong enough, then we can add one or more instances of the same effect behind it. By doing so, the effects stack on top of each other, which makes the effects sounds stronger than only one effect. However, we can also use the same effect from a different organization, if their tool has a stronger version of the effect, which can be easier to do.

When we have two or more different configurations of a distortion effect we want to use, we can add for each configuration an effect after each other.

A Practical and Common Equalization Method

Equalization is here an audio effect that we can make with an equalizer. Equalization is the process of adjusting frequency parts of a sound, which we can do with an equalizer. With an equalizer, we can boost or cut the energy of frequency ranges.

A general/detailed use of an equalizer is out of the scope of this post. Nevertheless, here follows a common method on how we can use an equalizer on a snare drum and clap. This method works well after one or more distortion effects, but also without such effects.

Equalization Settings

A common way of equalizing is using the table here below. However, this table only works for snare drums and claps that are as authentic as possible. Such as snare drums and claps that nobody has (or at least not heavily) already modified with an equalizer (which can be very hard to know/hear).

For example, authentic Roland TR-909 snare drum and clap samples are a good choice.

We can use this table by adding an equalizer after the distortion effect(s) (if there is any). After that, we copy the settings from this table to the added equalizer.

filter typefrequencyQ (bandwidth)boost or cut
the high-pass filter150 Hz0.7, 0.71, or default
a parametric equalizer400 Hz2.8-3 dB or -4 dB
a parametric equalizer800 Hz2.8-3 dB or -4 dB
a parametric equalizer1000 Hz2.8+2 dB or +3 dB
a parametric equalizer8000 Hz2.8-3 dB or -4 dB
the low-pass filter12000 Hz0.7, 0.71, or default

We can see in the table rows where the filter type is a parametric equalizer, that there is a choice in the “boost or cut” column. However, when we start using the values from the table, then we should first set the parametric equalizers on the -3 dB values and the +3 dB value.

When we have set all the parametric equalizers values, then we can change one or more value(s) from -3 dB to -4 dB and from +3 dB to +2 dB. We only change these values when it sounds better. Moreover, it might be a good idea to change these values later, for example, after using distorting effects.

Method of Common Distortion with Equalizing

Here follows the most common method in distorting and equalizing a snare drum and clap. When you are following this section and adding distortion effects, then make sure you use them as explained before. You can find this explanation in the section “Using Distortion Effects.”

A distortion effect on a snare drum.

It is common to have the mix or dry/wet knob of all the distortion effects on 100%. A reason for this commonality is that many analog tools only can be on or off, so only 0% or 100%. Therefore, when we add one or more distortion effects with the explanation in this section, we set the mix or dry/wet knob(s) of these effects on 100%.

First, we place an equalizer on our snare drum or clap as the first audio effect. Then we change the settings of this equalizer to the settings from section “Practical and Common Equalization Method.”

For the second audio effect, we use tape saturation, and we add this effect before the equalizer.

If we want to use a third audio effect, then we can add overdrive, distortion, or clipping, but only add one of these. However, if we like already how the result sounds, then maybe we should not add the third effect, it is a preference.

At this point, we have finished our snare drum or clap with adding distorting and equalizing to it.

A Bit-crusher Is Not Common on a Single Percussion

It is not so common to use a bit-crusher on a single percussion, but of course, it is possible, and there is nothing wrong it.

The most common way of using a bit-crusher is on a percussion group/bus/return/track/mixer track or something similar. We use a bit-crusher on a group (or something similar) to add one bit-crusher effect on all the percussions in that group. When there is one bit-crusher effect on these percussions, then they sound more as a whole.

A more in-depth explanation of using a bit-crusher on a group or something similar is out of the scope of this post.

Closing Words

This post explained first some things to keep in mind while reading this post. After that, this post explained how some common distortion effects work and how we can use distortion effects. Also, it explained a practical and common equalization method and a method of common distortion with equalizing.

If you like this post, then you may want to look at some posts in the production part, since this post is also part of it.

Hopefully, you know now how to use (mix) distortion effects on a snare drum/clap. Also, when you know someone who likes to know how to use distortion effects on a snare drum/clap, then feel free to share this post. Additionally, how do you prefer to use distortion effects on a snare drum/clap?

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