Controlling Bass In Your Mix

Ask any great musicians, producers or mix engineers what the most difficult part of their mix is and 9 times out of ten the same response is begrudgingly expressed; ‘The bottom end’.

Now, theoretically this covers anything from 300hz below but many of the techniques that we’re going to explore utilises frequencies much higher in the frequency spectrum.  

It is the use of these frequencies that can often allow tracks to seem much heavier than they actually are and ensures each mix hits the holy grail of mix combinations:

·      Great Bass & Kick relationship

·      Huge bottom end

·      Mixes that translate on all play back systems from cars to sound systems.

So let’s explore some classic techniques for really getting those mixes to slam.

EQ & Filtering

When controlling the bottom end of your mix selective EQ choices can be the different between success and failure.  In this section we’re going to explore the use of filtering and complimentary EQ.   Each technique has the ability to offer clarity and allows you to gain lashings of headroom.

Filtering

Let me introduce the High Pass Filter.  Available in all basic filters and EQ’s, this humble device ensures you’re in total control of all aspects of the bass.   Many samples and sounds have substantial amounts of sub frequency content that’s just eating up your headroom and causing potential clashes or phase issues with your kick & Bass.  This guide will show you where to aim:

Kick – 30-40Hz+

Bass – High Pass at 30hz+ 

Snare – 150hz +

Hats – 200Hz+

Synths – 100Hz+

Guitars – Tuning Dependant but 70Hz+ is a good starting point when in standard.

Complimentary EQ

A large issue with mixing bass elements is finding a strong relationship between the kick and the bass.  This can often be achieved by cutting holes in the frequency spectrum therefore making room for both elements.  How it’s done:

1. The kick is boosted at the most fundamental frequency.  In this example we boosted at 73hz.

2. The Bass is the boosted at its most fundamental frequency or where you think it has the most low-end punch.   For us it’s 99Hz.

3. The opposite frequencies are then cut from the opposing EQ to fill the gap we previously made. 

Note: Both elements were also ‘High-Passed’ to remove any sub content that can steal headroom / muddy our mix.

This technique has created space in the mix and allowed the elements to exist beautifully next to each other.

Control & Dynamics

Controlling the dynamics of your bass can be crucial in ensuring a great mix.  Dynamic control will allow two things:

1.  The mix remains powerful across all notes and consistent when played on different play back mediums.

2.  Spikes and big level changes in bass can trigger compressors and limiters ducking your mix as well as losing overall mix levels.

Side-Chaining

We all know the effect and the art of side chaining has become a staple in numerous genres around the world.  The trick is to duck the bass signal when the kick plays providing space in the mix as well and kick the perception of the kick being much larger than it actually is.

Here’s how it’s done:       

1.     Place a compressor on the bass channel.  Note the compressor must have side chain both available and activated.

2.     Set the side chain input to the kick channel or channel of your choice.  When the kick plays the compressor will be triggered giving space to the kick.

3.     Adjust the threshold, ratio and attack / release settings to taste

The 'Audio From' box allows us to choose the input signal that we'll use for the side-chain. 

Tip: Adjusting the attack & release settings of the compressor can have drastic effects. Slow releases often make the track feel swung and loose where as quick ones are way more aggressive and snappy.

Dynamic EQ & Multi-Band Compressors

Although slightly difference in performance both units perform similar tasks.  For us, we’re going to use this to duck certain frequencies when the kick plays.  This technique can be beneficial over a side-chain as it allows us to keep the top end information clear whilst carving space in the bass region for our kick.   The same technique used in side-chaining can be applied to multi-band compressors with minimal issue. 

Saturation & Top End

The ability to get basses to sound louder than they actually is a great trick and one that guarantees to help you time and time again.  A great tool for doing this is through the use of saturation to generate more harmonics in the sound.  By controlling which frequencies are saturated means you can tweak the higher register allowing it to cut through on any system without losing bottom end weight.  

Ryan from the team also explored the use of saturation from tape machines in his previous blog post if you wanted to read more.

Tip: Try layering up a quiet hi-hat on top of your kick sample to gain more top end bite allowing the kick to cut through the mix irrelevant of play back system.

Compromise & Ethos

The last thing that we’re going to explore is the art of compromise.  Although not a physical process the idea of deciding on which element is going to take centre stage can be far more effective than any processing techniques.  Here are our thoughts:

Do you really need a huge kick and sub?  If the tempo of the track is fast it’s sometimes better to go for a snappier kick and allow the bass to do the work of the bottom end.

Compromise in the mix can lead to great balance & clarity

So there you have it; our swift guide to controlling bass in your mixes.  Now not every technique will be perfect for your tracks but this should be seen as gaining some new techniques and ideas.  Experiment, tweak and progress.

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