November 06, 2023
One of the most misunderstood things in mixing is bass – whether it’s getting the low end right in general, letting the bass guitar cut through without overpowering everything else, or just making the bass interesting and cool. It can be tricky to get it right, but there are plenty of tried-and-true tricks for getting there quickly. Let’s go over a few of those.
Subtractive EQ is a key concept in general, but it’s particularly necessary with bass tracks – especially in relation to the kick. Mixers quite often start by reigning in bad resonances and ugly frequencies, then dealing with mud. It’s common for a bass to be too heavy around 100 Hz so that’s a great place to look. It’s a great idea to do this work in tandem with the kick so they can occupy their own spaces.
A good trick here is to take a listen to the bass and kick together. You can use a real-time analyzer (RTA) plugin (or an EQ with an RTA built-in) to get a look at the frequencies each instrument is dominant in. Decide whether it’s the kick or the bass that will occupy the sub-bass area (below 80 Hz or so), low-mids, and so on. You can then cut one a bit where the other one lives, giving both the kick and bass room.
You can use parallel processing to many ends, but the two most common for bass are compression and distortion. You can get there one of two ways: either set up an extra bass buss and a send from the main bass track or simply copy the track.
On the second buss/track, apply the processing and fade up to blend with the main track. The NYC compression trick is common here, which involves a little EQ boost at around 100 Hz and some pretty aggressive compression. Usually, the NYC track has bass and drums, or bass, kick, snare – but you can also use the same technique just on the bass.
Probably the most common parallel processing technique is to apply distortion to the extra buss. You can use a preamp plugin or any other kind of distortion that can get really aggressive – a saturator, harmonic exciter, etc. Try rolling off the lows a bit and emphasizing the area around 1-3 kHz. Fade it in underneath –unless you want the bass to sound outwardly distorted, you don’t need much. The result is a bass that sounds natural but cuts through on smaller speakers.
Sidechaining is a great way to keep the bass from masking the kick drum. You can set up a sidechain compressor to trigger when the kick hits, ducking the bass a little bit out of the way. For an even cooler method, use a dynamic EQ set to sidechain to the kick. Set up a low shelf at about 100 Hz to duck just the lows from the bass when the kick hits.
It’s long been common practice to blend the DI signal with the miked-up amp signal to gain color. You can also layer a few different bass patches if you’re using soft synths, and don’t be afraid to experiment with non-bass patches for this purpose. Pianos, guitars, cellos, boops, beeps – the sky’s the limit.
In either case, though, you’ll have to watch for masking and phase issues. You can easily flip the polarity of one of the signals to determine if there’s undesirable cancellation, and when using the DI/Amp combo, you might even want to take advantage of a time adjuster plugin to line these tracks up.
A great way to give the bass some extra character is to use some kind of widener. That could be a stereo widener, chorus, flange, or even delay. However, there’s a caveat: widening low frequencies is a recipe for a muddy, flabby bottom. The fix is straightforward: use parallel processing. Copy or buss the track and roll off the lows below about 250 Hz before applying the widener. This gives the part the desired flavor but keeps the actual low-end centered and tight. One often used technique is to just bring the widener in on choruses, to add interest during that important transition.
Not every mixer does this, but it can be pretty effective to apply a multiband compressor to a bass track to reign in different frequency ranges independently. This is helpful with real bass performances, especially if the bassist is using a wide range of the instrument.
There’s no set way to do this, and a ton depends on context, but for a starting place, a common multiband compression setup for bass involves dividing it into three bands: sub-bass (20-100Hz), low-mid (100-500Hz), and upper-mid (500Hz-1kHz). Start with a low threshold and moderate ratio for each band. Set fast attack times (5-10ms) for the sub-bass and slow attacks (20-30ms) for midbands. Release times around 50-100ms tend to work well.
You can add interest or just keep the bass in its place with judicious use of automation. You can automate level, EQ settings, and so on – especially during breaks and transitions.
No one would blame you if you decided to keep a policy of never, ever applying reverb to bass. After all, too much is another recipe for mud. But you can add a sense of space with a short verb – something like a plate or ambient patch. Just like with widening and distortion, it helps tremendously to high-pass the signal before it gets to the verb, ala the Abbey Road reverb trick. Be sure to apply the EQ before the reverb in this scenario, on a separate buss (not directly on the bass track). And of course, you can use automation to apply the verb only in select spots.
Bass mixing is a particular craft all its own, and it often takes years to really master it, but we hope these tips at least help you get there just a little quicker. Happy mixing!
October 30, 2023
Some of the great guitar-playing artists were self-taught – which means a great many of them use weird tunings. That’s probably no coincidence – using alternate tunings is a great way to come up with a unique sound. So, let’s look at a few of the most common uncommon tunings you could try with your guitar – or your bass.
October 23, 2023
October 06, 2023
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