3 Bonehead Bass Mistakes & How To Fix Them

Hey, we’ve all made bonehead mistakes. It doesn’t mean you’re some kind of idiot that can’t tell a bass guitar from a largemouth bass, it just means at some point or another you’ve made a mistake that you should’ve seen coming from a mile away.

When you’re mixing a song, the reasons for your mistake could be endless. Whether you’ve got someone in the studio with you that insists on talking throughout the entire mix session or you're on your sixteenth straight hour mixing because it’s “almost finished”, you’ve got plenty of reasons why something might slip through the cracks now and then.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest bonehead bass mistakes and how you can fix them.

1. Mixing Bass in Solo

A soloed bass guitar only has the potential to sound right in the final mix if you’re working on some bass player’s solo album or if you get lucky. There’s not much else to it than that.

Without listening to your bass in context when mixing, you can’t pick up on the subtle interactions your bass has with every other instrument in your mix. EQ and compression adjustments done in solo might sound great at first, but by the time you get back to the rest of the instrumentation, that bass guitar could be 10 dB louder than it was before and you likely didn’t notice it creeping up.

By the time you’re done with the bass, you might be able to just dial back the fader a bit, but you run the risk of having to remix the entire bass track if it’s too far gone.

How To Fix It

Once you’ve acknowledged that you need to mix your bass in context, don’t think that the solo button is suddenly completely off limits. The solo button should be used just like a second pair of monitors or a second listener. It should be used to give you a different perspective.

I don’t recommend getting stuck in this new perspective, because the longer you’re there, the further off track you can get. But if you’re hearing a strange frequency that you can’t quite isolate in context, flipping over to that solo button for just a second to find it can be the right move to save you time and effort. In some cases, it might even save you from a wild goose chase by disappearing completely when soloed (usually indicating the problem wasn’t on the bass track at all).

2. Being Stingy With The Low End

Yes, the low end of your frequency spectrum is your bass guitar’s domain. It’s where it hangs out and puts your subwoofer to work along with the kick drum. But if that’s all you ever let get down into that range, are you missing out on some really great opportunities as a mixer?

There are so many lies out there when it comes to mixing low end, but the worst offender is that nothing else should touch the space your kick and bass sit in. Because of this, I’ve seen dozens of engineers mix their bass, then immediately start rolling off the low frequency content of every track that comes remotely close to it. Why?

How To Fix It

Instead of making your low end an exclusive spot, start thinking about ways your mix could improve by opening it up a bit. There are dozens of pads and synths that reach down into this space, and as long as they’re not drowning out your bass, there’s no reason to limit their presence. If you’re interested, you can even use a synth to reinforce an inconsistent bass performance.

Bass can also benefit from some attention outside of the low end as well. A lot of engineers really like to take time out of their mix to dial in the mid-range of their bass. The mid-range is where a lot of the attack of bass notes sit, making the range extremely useful when trying to get your bass to cut through the mix.

3. Not Compressing Bass DIs

I might make some enemies here, but bass needs compression. When a bass player plays through an amp, there’s automatically compression from the power amp & speakers themselves. In a DI situation, that compression is non-existent. Some DI manufacturers have started to compensate for this, but for the most part, your DI is going to underwhelm straight out of the box.

Some bass players put tons of money into their recording rig, including a hardware compressor that might even be part of their live rig. Others might expect the studio to take care of it for them (or not think about it at all). You don’t need a bass player or band thinking you’re incapable of recording a good bass tone just because they’re recording directly.

How To Fix It

Find a bass-focused compressor that works for you, and consider using it during tracking if a bass guitar’s DI is coming across as lackluster.

I’m not advocating for any heavy compression upfront unless the song calls for it but a few dB of gain reduction, even when done in parallel, can be enough to result in a smooth, buttery bass tone that’s sure to please the crowd.

Want To Avoid All Bonehead Mistakes?

There’s probably not a cure-all resolution for you, but being aware of common tracking and mixing obstacles that engineers need to overcome is a huge leap in the right direction.

Come join the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook, where you’ll find thousands of other engineers sharing their stories and solutions. See you there!