Tutorial: Creating That 80s Snare Sound

The 80s was all about that snare. Everything was big, flashy and pushed to the limit. I've done a decent amount of fat snare sounds for my retrowave project Jane 8 and here are the things I find essential:

1. Start with a solid sound

Find a decent sample. Use a sound with lots of body and character, or stack a couple of samples. If you start with a "real" acoustic snare you're going to need lots of extra processing. For extra authenticity use a sample from a vintage drum machine. In I'm Free I used a snare from Alesis HR-16B.

2. Shape it with an EQ

Proper EQ makes any sound. Take a reference track of your favorite snare sound and try to match your snare to it with only EQ. I also put in an exciter very often, just to get some extra shimmer in the treble. Don't overdo it though. Or do, this is the 80s we're talking about.

3. Give it some tail with a reverb

Reverb gives the snare staying power and lifts it to epic levels. Not just any reverb, it has to be a specific kind. You want to hear and feel it. Experiment with different reverb VSTs, their presets and impulses. Again for extra authenticity use an impulse from a vintage reverb unit. My absolute favorite is the Big Snare preset from Yamaha SPX990.

4. Finalize it with in-your-face compression

Compress the sound after your reverb so you'll get a very pronounced tail. If your reverb impulse is not already gated, use a gate here so you'll get a tight release also. As for the compression settings, just go wild and push it to the limit! You might want to route some of the dry signal through to retain a punchy attack.

My 80s snare essentials: EQ, exciter, reverb and compressor.