Brendan on Mixing Bass

Brendan on Mixing Bass


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Bass instruments are extremely important in today's music. Whether you're working with an acoustic instrument (e.g. double bass), an electric instrument (e.g. an electric bass guitar) or an electronic instrument (e.g. a virtual synthesizer), fitting the bass perfectly into the mix while still keeping the sound clean and powerful is always a pain in the neck. So how do you get it right?
First of all ensuring you have the 'right' sound is crucial. While experimentation is necessary in music production. Using a heavily-distorted square-wave bass synth is unlikely to sound particularly good with a dry piano and acoustic guitar. Obviously that's a rather extreme example but you get the idea. A way to get around this issue is by listening to a variety of different songs with a very similar style, genre, meaning, etc. to the one you're going for. This allows you go hear first hand what professionals in your field have done where you haven't an idea. Although it can be far from simple once you've got to the mixing stage, adjusting other sounds or melodies in the song can be the best way to ensure the bass fits into the mix nicely. Perfecting the recording (if recorded) goes without saying. If the wrong note is hit or a note is played a 1/16 out of time, for example, the entire song can easily be thrown off for even a few seconds. Ensure you rehearse plenty before going for the final take! Making sure your arrangement is on point is key, too. If there's a section in the song where an extra, beefy layer is added to the kick, the bass will probably fight back and cause a muddy low end. It can pay off to play around with compressor settings, for example, or even remove the bass from this section all together.
If your bass booms in solo, but loses a lot of clarity and depth in the song, try reducing key frequencies from the more present instruments in the mix. For example if your bass has a lot of sub at around 40Hz, but you can't really hear the character from around 80-200Hz, try cutting out small frequency bands in the lead guitar, orchestra, etc. Sometimes you can even cut off the low end (<60Hz) completely, but listen carefully to the sound and make sure it doesn't sound too unnatural or dead without it.
Furthermore, allow room for the kick! It might sound bizarre, but cutting some of the lows from the bass can tidy up the low end phenomenally. Often the kick and bass together can cause a big impact to the clarity of the track. Try getting rid of the sub in the bass, and having the kick lower than the bass. If this doesn't suit your taste, try adding a sub layer at around 30-60Hz, and focusing the kick at 60-100Hz, and the bass at roughly 100-250Hz. Sometimes bass can have a lot of power, but still not quite have the presence in the mix you'd like. Boosting the harmonics at the high-mids can give the bass more definition in the overall mix.
Low frequencies are hard to tame in a professional studio, let alone home studios. Make sure you move around your rooms and challenge the room modes. Different positions in the room could vary significantly in terms of the frequency spectrum. Check to see that your not sat in a particularly low-end-dead position. Once you're happy with your bass, or even if you're still not, listen to the song on different monitors. Listening on small speakers, you can see if the bass loses any presence or clarity without the boom of the speakers you were mixing on. Large speakers with a strong low end show you if you've overcooked the bass in any way. While headphones vary massively from pair to pair, it's also a good idea to listen to the song on a pair or two as well. Remember, a lot of listeners will hear the song through headphones! Also listening to and perfecting the car environment will almost certainly make your bass sound immaculate on every device!

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