6 Ways to Improve Your Bass Mixing Skills – How To Craft The Perfect Low End
This is a guest post by Adi Szasz. If you would like to contribute a guest post to Audio Issues, please read the guest post guidelines right here.
Regardless of the genre that you’re producing, the low-end is the “resting place” of the production. You can compare it to a heartbeat that gives color to the rhythmic section.
In rock music, the bass connects the drums to the vocals. In electronic music, the bass is what makes you shake and you can immediately tell the difference between a crudely crafted bass and a clean, clear one.
Let’s see how you can approach bass mixing to strike a chord in your listener’s hearts:
1. The Counterintuitive Move
The first mistake most producers make when starting out is to put an EQ on a bass track and pump the 50 – 100 Hz area. In most cases, this mixing choice leads to so many problems down the road that it will make you go crazy.
So how do you add more bass without clashing with the rest of the mix?
Although the question is simple, the answer is not as clear: you need to give the sound a slight boost to the midrange.
But before you do that, it’s a good idea to shave off the high frequencies and even some of the high-mid frequencies as well. Why? Because only then you can start to look for that mid-low sweet spot that gives off the impression that the sound has more bass frequency.
This method works especially well on an electric bass guitar type of sound but it can also do wonders on synth bass.
A word of warning: try not to clutter up the mids with guitars, vocals, and effects. If you feel like your mid-frequency spectrum gets cluttered up, then I recommend checking out this guide on how to easily EQ all your instruments together in your mixes.
If your style of music demands that you clutter the mid-range, then pay close attention to the next tip.
2. A balancing act
If you’re boosting certain frequencies from your bass track, you should subtract the frequency range from all other low end sounds and vice versa.
This way you’ll make room for everything that gives character to your sound. That applies to sounds in the mid and high section as well. Each sound should have its own place tonally and spatially.
3. Phase and polarity issues
Maybe you’re using an electric bass coupled with a synth on top, or even a multi-mic recording. If you’re going to layer your bass sounds, then you should take phase cancellation and polarity inversions into account.
First of all, choose only one track as the main source, and add a high-pass filter at around 100Hz to the rest, to avoid phase-cancellation between their long-waveform components.
Bounce any midi tracks to audio and look for phase and polarity issues. Some can be seen with the naked eye.
For the rest, you can use simple utility plug-ins that inverse the polarity. Pay close attention and trust your ears. They will guide you more than what your eyes have just read.
4. Mix in mono
It’s an unwritten rule in audio engineering that you should pan the bass up the center. It is, after all, the “bed” on which the other sounds lay. Also, the audio systems in most clubs and venues have a mono output for bass. There is no need to spread or pan the bass. Just keep it mono so that it’s “tight and in your face.”
If your song demands it, by all means, spread it pan it, do whatever you like, just try to keep some of the low end in mono and pan the mid-range and high-end.
5. Time for compression
Compression will make the bass sound more even and consistent. As each note will play at a more equal level the bass will sit better in the mix.
There are too many compressor plugins out there to mention. Each has its own character and is suited for some problem rather than the next. There’s a lot to talk about compressors and which one to choose and we won’t go into details here. For further reading on compression, I recommend the Complete Guide to Using Compression Effectively.
Most quality DAWs have their own built-in compressor plugins that are more than enough to get the job done.
If you’re into aggressive genres you’ll need to use heavy compression. On the other hand, if your productions are jazz or folk-oriented, you’ll need less or maybe none at all.
Whatever the case you can start with these settings:
- Ratio — 4:1
- Attack — moderate
- Release — fast
Now, turn down the threshold until you hear the compressor kicking in and start playing around with the settings.
If you need a punchy and percussive sound, then slow down the attack. This way, the compressor will affect the signal only after the initial thump has been heard.
On the other hand, if you want a smooth and soft sound, you should speed up the attack. You’ll have to be careful, though, this can also make your track sound flat.
If you want a thick and dense sound, then set the release time to fast to enhance the sustain. This will bring out the low-level sounds that can give a bass its character.
6. My secret weapon
Sound Radix Surfer EQ is a plugin that makes the EQ actually move along with the note, going up in frequency as the pitch goes up, and going down in frequency when a lower note is played. This will provide you with more options and more precision when sculpting your bass sound.
With Surfer EQ you can turn an uneven take into a pumping tight masterpiece. Just give it a go.
Don’t forget to listen at different levels and through several monitoring systems to get an accurate perspective on your low end. A good practice among amateurs and pros alike is to give it one final listen on a car sound system.
If it sounds good there, it usually sounds good on any sound system. If it doesn’t read our guide on using a reference mix to skyrocket the quality of your mixes.
Can you think of any other way to polish your low-end? Don’t hesitate to share your wisdom in the comments section below!