Tight, punchy bass can literally make or break the balance of most mixes. A good mixer knows that they can control or eliminate that flabbiness of bass tracks, but a great one takes a quick and methodical approach to actually make it happen.
Today, having a tight, smooth bass guitar performance is essential if you want your mix to fight in the same weight class as the pros. We’re going to explore a 5-minute fix that’s guaranteed to make that happen for you.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
The first thing we need to do when trying to tighten up our bass guitars is make sure that looseness is often the problem. Low-end buildup is extremely common in mixes, and that’s not always the fault of the bass guitar. Often, low-end buildup occurs as a result of having a bunch of other instrumentation with unnecessary low end crowding up that space in the frequency spectrum.
If you’ve already high-pass filtered those frequencies from your other tracks and you’re still finding that the low end is flabby and unbalanced, that’s when you can start looking at treating your bass guitar as the most likely culprit.
Step 2: Add Compression
By adding compression, you’re able to tame the inconsistencies of most instruments – in this case, bass. Bass in particular needs compression, not because it’s audibly spiky or transient, but because the low-end content found within bass ebbs and flows as the bass player performs. Depending on the tuning of the bass, the resonance of the notes they’re hitting, and the pickups/gear in their signal chain, bass can vary widely in how it plays back through most speaker systems.
Adding a bass-focused compressor like BG-Bass has several major benefits versus a stock compressor – mainly in terms of control. You’re going to be able to adjust settings with a good bass compressor that you won’t find elsewhere – and that’s how you apply the fix in 5-minutes instead of spending 15 or 20 trying to do the same thing with other plugins.
Step 3: Top & Bottom
Focusing in on the controls within BG-Bass, the biggest benefit bass-focused compressors have is the ability to treat high frequencies and low frequencies independently. With the high frequency compression settings, we’re able to treat the attack of the bass – bringing out any pick attack and taming any notes that were hit too hard.
With the low frequency compression settings, we really get to focus our efforts on making everything sound tighter. Often this means setting this section with a significant amount of gain reduction/compression while the top end may have some more passive treatment. Because low frequencies are often felt more than they’re heard, applying drastic compression in this range results in a tighter sound without sounding overcompressed (an issue you’ll often have if you try to use a single compressor that’s applied broadly across the entire frequency range).
Here’s a great example of this treatment in action from John Connearn using Joel Wanasek’s signature BG-Bass plugin:
You can really hear how the bottom end of the mix tightens up as he pushes the compressor harder.
Finding the Right Compressor for the Job
The 5-minute fix described here helps speed up bass mixing significantly, but bass guitars aren’t the only instruments that can benefit from instrument-specific processing.
For a great compression starting point across all major instrument groups, check out the full Joel Wanasek Bus Glue series.