How To Separate The Kick Drum and Bass Guitar In Your Mix
You’re probably familiar with that old bass and kick problem.
When you’re trying to get both the kick to punch through while keeping the bass defined and clear?
Right. Thought so.
I’ve been dealing with some challenges around that recently so I thought I’d share some of the solutions I’ve found to this common problem.
Think of the Bass and Kick as One Instrument
We run into problems when we start soloing stuff.
You might be soloing the kick drum and trying to get it to sound good and once it sounds amazing you can’t figure out why it doesn’t work with the rest of the mix.
And usually the kick clashes with the bass guitar.
There’s a 2-part reason for this:
- You need to mix in the context of the instruments, not in solo.
- You need to think of the kick and the bass as ONE instrument.
Soloing has its place of course, especially when you’re troubleshooting. But when it comes to the kick and bass it’s best to solo them together.
Think of them like buddies. Like Laurel and Hardy, Wayne and Garth, Batman and Robin….you get the picture.
Separately they’re…fine. But together they’re awesome.
(Except for Batman…he’s just fine on his own. Just not as entertaining…)
Your kick might sound a bit thin on its own so if you add in a bunch of low-end to thicken it up you won’t leave much room for the bass.
But if you solo them together you might find that there’s plenty of weight from the bass guitar that seems to enhance the kick drum.
So just by doing that you’ll add less EQ to the mix which makes your job easier in the end.
The key take-away here is that you make sure you mix the low-end together instead of separately in a vacuum. The bass guitar and the kick drum has a symbiotic relationship and mixing them together is the key, even if you mute everything else.
It’ll help you create more definition so the kick packs a punch and bass has definition.
How to Decide Where the Kick and Bass Sit in the Frequency Spectrum
Low-end frequencies are big and bulky and the bass and kick are greedy sonsabitches that want to hog it all to themselves.
Even if they are great partners you can also look at them like brothers that argue a lot. And when that happens you need to teach them how to share.
As we discussed above, soloing both the kick drum and bass guitar together will give you a more rounded view of the low-end.
Unfortunately, we still have to decide where each instrument sits.
At that point it becomes a decision making process that has more to do with the overall character of the mix than just the low-end.
Ask yourself a few questions while you’re EQ’ing the kick and bass:
- What kind of kick sound is common for the genre?
- Is the actual character of the bass naturally thicker than the kick drum, or does the kick drum dominate the low-low-end?
- Is there a sweet spot in either the kick or bass where they really stand out and shine in the mix?
If you’re mixing a country song you’ll want a more “basketball” sounding kick than if you were mixing a hardcore metal album. That should affect how you approach the low-end because a naturally brighter low-end (say at around 100 Hz or so) will help you get closer to country than giving the kick drum a big fat boost at 60 Hz.
Sometimes the recorded sounds will simply give you the answer you need. If the bass is naturally thicker, in the 80 Hz area for instance, you don’t want to cut all that out just because you want the kick to sit there. Make the tracks tell you what they need instead of deciding for them. It’s fascinating how little you might need to EQ if you just listen to what the tracks are telling you.
But if there’s no real natural separation and both the kick and the bass are overly dominant across the low-end it’s time to make some decisions.
That’s when you bring out the EQ and start sweeping around. Try to find a natural sweet spot in each instrument that seems to flatter the overall sound. There might be a few distinct places so go back to the original question of what’s right for the genre or feel of the song. Once you’ve decided the sweet spot of each instrument and added some boosts in each respective instrument it’s always a good idea to cut the same area in the opposing instrument.
So for example:
- If you boost 70 Hz in the bass then cutting that same area in the kick might give both instruments a little more room to breathe.
- The same goes for boosts in the kick drum. If you boost 100 Hz in the kick you can cut 100 Hz in the bass.
That way you end up dividing the frequencies between the two instruments and now they’re both sharing the same frequency spectrum without bothering each other.
If that works you can call the low-end a day and keep working on the rest of the mix. But if the bass is still clashing and you can’t hear the snap of the kick drum from the low-end of the bass there’s still one thing you can do.
This is one of those tricks that you might need to do after you’ve done the aforementioned tricks.
Because if you’ve followed the guide so far, this is what you’ve done:
- Solo’d both the kick and bass together to get them to sit in the low-end.
- Analyzed the character of each instrument and decided where to EQ them so that they share the low-end together.
But what happens when you bring the rest of the mix in is that your kick might drown in all the other instruments.
Even if you hear the kick through the bass while solo’d the bass might still take over when everything is playing at once.
It’s funny how it works that way but luckily, we have a solution.
When All Else Fails, Side-Chain
By inserting a compressor on the bass guitar track and side-chaining it to the kick drum you can duck the bass guitar out of the way every time the kick hits.
Because the beater belongs in the mid-range instead of the low-end we haven’t really focused any of our EQ’ing there.
(I mean, you probably have but in the context of the article let’s suppose not mmm’kay?)
What happens is that when you bring all the other mid-range dominant instruments in the beater gets buried with them.
But we don’t have to duck each instrument out of the way of the beater. We really only have to focus on the bass guitar because once that bass goes down a few decibels you’ll hear that snap from the beater again.
Here’s a good step by step process.
- Step 1 – Make sure the kick and bass are grooving nicely in solo and that you can still hear the beater.
- Step 2 – Bring the rest of the instruments into the mix.
- Step 3 – If the beater gets buried, lower the fader of the bass until you hear the snap of the beater again. It shouldn’t be more than a few dB.
- Step 4 – Bring the bass back up to its original position and insert a compressor on the bass track and side-chain it to the kick.
- Step 5 – Have the compressor compress the bass the same dB amount as you found in step 3.
- Step 6 – Set the attack and release to fast so it only compresses during the initial transient of the kick drum and doesn’t affect the bass sound too much.
- Step 7 – Meet me at the bar. I got you a Pueblo Vida Hefeweizen!
Get Your Ultimate Guide to EQ
Now that you’ve got your kick drum and bass under control you can focus on EQ’ing the rest of your mix.
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