MixCoach Podcast 057: Managing Low End (Bass)

Bass, Low End, Mixing

This episode of the MixCoach Podcast is all about managing the low end in a mix.

Raw Transcript:

Announcer: This is the Mix Coach podcast episode 57.

Jon: On this week, we’re going to talk about the low end of mixing.  We’re
going to talk a little bit about how to balance the low end.  Some tricks
you can use to get the low end right in your mix and talk about how you can
get 80 percent of your mix done with just the low end. Hey Kev, how’s it
going?

Kevin: Hey Jon, how you doing this morning?

Jon: I’m doing good.  So today we’re actually talking about the low end in
a mix.  And I know we’ve talked about this probably on the podcast, but I
don’t think it was specifically about mixing in general.  And to me, if you
get the low end right in a mix, you’re like halfway there.  Because once
that low end is tight, that kind of gets your foot stomping and your head
bobbing and that sort of thing.  And once you get that kind of going you’re
halfway there already.  So what are some tips? Do you have any tips about
mixing the low end?

Kevin: Well, I do have a couple of tips, but I’ve got a story first.  My
story is just like everybody else’s story who’s just starting to mix.  The
biggest challenge is to get the low end to where it doesn’t sound like…
That’s the biggest, the biggest difference between a professionally
sounding mix to me, and even to my very young ears when I was first
learning.  The biggest difference was the tightness of the low end.  I had
heroes that had this monstrous low end but it was not muddy, and we
mentioned it a while ago.  When you get the low end right, you’re like 80
percent there almost.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kevin: Between that and blend. I searched and searched and searched and
finally probably about ten years ago, I think I figured out the biggest
trick, and we talked about this before.  And it’s mainly just to filter out
everything that you don’t need because what happens is you solo a guitar.
And it’s an acoustic guitar. It’s just got beautiful warm low end. Maybe
it’s a Martin or a Gibson.  It’s got that really nice lush round low end.
Then you’ve got this bass guitar it’s all muddy and everything…

Jon: It’s beefy down there.

Kevin: But when you put them together, they start competing with each other
for low end.  The thing I figured out a few years ago was you don’t need
that stuff.  There’s only so much real estate down there below what 60, 60
Hertz.  And usually that’s best served by the kick drum.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: And so the biggest tip I have, actually I have a couple of tips.
First thing is to filter everything you don’t need.  I’m talking about
piano. I’m talking about acoustic guitars, electric guitars, vocals.
Everything usually, as a matter of fact, I’ve got my, “Instant Awesome”, as
you call it, preset on SSL, and it’s built into… I think everything below
120 even.  I mean there’s not a lot of low end.  A tip for doing that is to
turn your hi pass filter up until it starts to sound thin, and then back it
down until it doesn’t sound thin again.  And then you’ve gotten rid of all
the low end that you don’t need and just about everything.

Jon: Right on.

Kevin: And the second thing that I do is I compress the low end.  I use
something like Ozone, iZotope Ozone and I’ll take the lowest band of
frequencies…

Jon: It’s that almost like a multi-band compressor.

Kevin: A multi-band compressor, yeah, and I’ll take the lowest band and
I’ll solo it and I’ll listen to where it’s just awfully muddy, and then, of
course, it’s supposed to be that way.  You don’t have to do any top end to
balance it out, but what I’ll do usually is just solo that and I compress
it just a little bit so I can pull it up a little bit and it keeps the low
end tight.

Jon: Nice, nice.

Kevin: What do you do?

Jon: We’ve talked about this before like even just the extreme lows and
most styles of music, I would say, except for kind of hip hop or even
extreme pop.  You really don’t need much below 40 Hertz or so, anyway.  And
so even on the kick and the bass if on like rock music you roll off up
until 40, 44 Hertz or so is kind of what I shoot for, and it cleans up a
lot of the low end.  It doesn’t hit your compressor nearly as much because
a lot of times those super low end frequencies that you can barely hear hit
your compressor and kind of muddy up the sound of the mix. They cloud it a
little bit with compression distortion, that sort of thing.

So just filtering it a little bit off of that has vastly helped kind of the
low end of my mixing, that sort of thing.  Another thing you can do is
complementary EQ kind of the bass and the kick.  Like wherever the bass,
the kicks frequency is, like it’s resident frequency, a lot of times it’s
around 62, 64, something like that.  You can notch a tiny bit of the bass
out there and leave room for where the kick lives because the bass lives
anywhere from in the hundreds of Hertz all the way down to the low end. And
so if you kind of carve out a little bit of room for that resident
frequency of the kick, it kind of opens up a little bit of possibilities
for your low end there.

Kevin: I don’t think I’ve ever done that.  I mean I’ve heard of people side
chaining a kick to a bass and all that kind of stuff.

Jon: I’ve never done that.

Kevin: And complimentary EQ.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that as kind of
a go-to thing.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: Because we’re in Nashville, there’s really not, when you get a bass
track usually…

Jon: It’s pretty solid.

Kevin: … It’s a really nice bass track.  Usually, more often than not I
don’t do anything to the bass, but I do this one thing because the balance
between the kick and the bass is important.  So one of the tricks that I
use, and this maybe we’ll cover this in another episode or something like
that.   One of the things I do to balance the kick and the bass is I’ll
mute the bass, and then I’ll listen to the mix and see if the kick is
carrying the mix.  Then I’ll mute the kick and un-mute the bass and see if
the bass carries the mix too without the kick in it.  And then usually…

Jon: If yes to both of those, then you’re solid.  If no to one of those,
then you may need a little bit of balance in here and there.

Kevin: Well, you do it as you go, like if you make the kick carry just with
mainly volume with me.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: I never EQ the kick without the bass in it or vice versa, but just
far as balance.  Usually that’s a home run every time for me.

Jon: Right.  And a lot of times in those early days of people’s mixing you
hear things like the bass is super loud and the kick is nowhere to be
found.  Or the kick is super loud and the bass is nowhere to be found.  And
that kind of solves that as well because if you piece together things and
test things along the step of the process, if you’re just kind of listening
to the instruments without the vocals.  A long the whole mixing process if
you do that a few times, where you mute the kick, mute the bass and ask
those questions.  Hey, does it carry?

A lot of times that will just solve pretty much everything. I know whenever
I started doing that, and that was a suggestion from you a couple of years
ago or something like that.  Whenever I started doing that it really made
me think differently about the way my bass and low end was actually being
treated, so…

Kevin: Since we’re talking about side subjects here almost, there’s a lost
art form of balance.  I think that most young engineers, in addition to not
keeping the low end as tight and as clean as it could be one of the things
they do, is they’ll watch a tutorial on YouTube and they’ll say, “Oh man,
I’ve got to do a parallel compression on my drums.”  But they don’t take
into account that you have to have pretty well balanced drums before, or
you’ve got to know what to or what not to put in the parallel compression.

And so one my checks and balances thing that I do with a mix, the kick and
the bass is one of them.  I’ll listen to the mix without the vocals to make
sure the rest of it sounds like a mix.  One of the other things I’ll do is
I’ll take the drums completely out and listen to the bass and instruments.

I subdivide everything like instruments and drums.  I’ll take the drums out
and then just make sure that I’m not being distracted by how cool the drums
sound.  And that’s another thing, it’s kind of like, it’s like building a
house and the foundation.  If it’s held up by one block…

Jon: And you take that away.

Kevin: And you kick the block out, then your mix falls apart. That’s why I
advocate mixing in mono and doing these subtractive sort of things to get
balance.  But we’re off into another podcast now.

Jon: We probably are.

Kevin: But, as far as low end, I think the best thing you could possible
do, as any mixer really, is to really check the low end.  And one of the
things you can do, if you have access to a sub, that changed the way I
mixed too because you can actually hear all that stuff that you’ve never
heard before in your mix.  Subs seem to sing better when they don’t have to
overwork, and they just got kicking bass and effects to worry about.

Jon: And as long as your sub setup correctly.  Another thing is sometimes
there are guys that throw a sub in and just kind of throw it in.  They
don’t necessarily take the time to learn the sub and figure out exactly how
it needs to be set up with their rig.  And so sometimes it can kind of turn
sideways on people that way.  So if you get a sub, make sure it’s set up
right.  There are always manuals and things like that you make sure that
you’ve got to set it up correctly.

For me, a good pair of headphones, like a good pair of nice low end
headphones is always super helpful as well because you can always pop those
on and you hear differently because you don’t hear the sounds of your room
and then things are kind of close. You can always feel it really
differently in your headphones as well.  Alright. So that kind of wraps up
the talk about the low end of the mix.

Kevin: Cool. Well, thanks for tuning in guys, and we’ll see you next week.

Announcer: Thanks for listening. This has been the Mix Coach podcast, the
podcast dedicated to making your next recording your best recording.  For
more tips, tutorials, and even a free course, be sure to visit us at
Mixcoach.com.

Question: How do you control the low end (bass) in your mix?

 

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