Hopefully by now you’ve come to realize that without a good bass sound, you don’t have a good sound. Period.
While other elements of your mix might be able to sound “passable” without an acute attention to detail, your bass needs to sit just right in the mix. Without it, you come across as thin and dull. Too much of it, and your song’s only going to get played by some guy trying to win a “who’s-sub-is-bigger” contest with the guy in the ’99 Honda Civic next to him at a red light (and he’ll probably lose).
So if you’re looking to glue the low end of your mix together for a professionally finished sound, make sure you focus on four characteristics the next time you’re mixing bass instruments:
Focus On The Grit
Clean, dry bass is overrated. Most DI boxes do a great job at getting something clean and mix-ready, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Your bass needs to cut through the mix like anything else, and a well-recorded DI alone is rarely going to do that for you.
If you find that you’re losing some of the body of the bass with a particular plugin, consider using the processor in parallel (or mess with the Mix knob if it’s got one). Parallel processing is a great way to retain some of your clean, unaffected tone while gaining the mid-range attack you’re after.
Speaking of Attack
When’s the last time you got creative with your compression approach? If it’s been a while, bass is a great place to experiment.
If you’re doing a lot of heavy compression on your bass to tighten those transients, consider leaving your ratio high, but dialing back your attack so it’s slow. A slower attack will add some punch to your bass guitars and kick drums, letting the attack cut through before the compressor clamps down on the signal.
This type of effect is compounded when mixing various bass instruments through a bass subgroup/aux track. Bus compression is the perfect way to glue things together that occupy a lot of the same frequency range and share similar tonal characteristics. It’s the perfect place to add a final touch of compression for ultimate dynamic control. A little bit of compression will go a long way here.
Use Your Ears, Not Your Eyes
Most spectrum analyzers suck at giving you an accurate representation of what’s going on with your mix. They’re fine for generalities: too much below 500 Hz, build up around 4k, etc. If you’re looking to know how your song feels, you’ll want to look somewhere else (or close your eyes and don’t look at anything at all).
A spectrum analyzer isn’t going to tell you how a song feels, your ears and intuition need to do that. Likewise, you’re not going to know what a bass needs for EQ adjustments by looking at an analyzer and adjusting from there.
Let’s face it: sometimes the worst EQ adjustments sound the best. If your intuition tells you to boost a range 8 dB, but then you need to notch a 16 dB cut out of the middle of that range, do it.
It doesn’t have to look pretty; it just needs to sound right.
Call In The Reinforcements
Sometimes, your live-recorded tracks just aren’t enough to make your mix work. It’s disheartening and can make you feel like you’ve failed in some way. The key is remembering that you’ve got all the tools you need to remedy the situation right inside your DAW.
When all else fails, call in the troops. Reinforce your bass with some simple synthesis and see how it shines.
All of the other characteristics are still in play. Your synth bass might need some EQ, you might want to add some grit to it, and you’re more than likely going to want to mix it down to an aux track with a bus compressor where you can blend it with the live bass.
For more on reinforcing your bass guitar, check out our step-by-step guide to beefier bass.
Finding A Balance
Your bass mix is one of the most important elements of a production. Neglect it at your own risk.
Anyone can come up with a quick and easy sound, but it takes a lot of attention to detail, a producer’s thirst for creativity, and a mixer’s intuition to bring it all together.
If you’re looking to build each of those skills to become a better audio professional, come join our community of thousands of other producers and engineers in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. There, you’ll be able to get advice and feedback that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.