Compounding Low End is Killing Your Ability To Mix

A powerful low end in your song is a must for modern mixes. Electronic musicians and producers can’t get enough of the stuff; it’s what makes their listeners feel their music. Heavy metal and rock aren’t new to it either; for years we’ve been working extended range guitars and basses into our music seeking out the heaviest tones possible.

There is such a thing as too much though and it’s a mixer’s responsibility to draw that line or risk having bass steamroll everything else in a mix.

As the demand grows for more bass in songs, we need to begin working smarter to make that happen. More bass doesn’t always mean more low end. Sometimes, the artist is looking for more presence in the low end, or more attack on the bass notes. They want to hear more bass, but you don’t need to sacrifice quality to make that happen.

Start With Taking Out The Trash

For most instruments, there’s not a whole lot of value to keeping the frequency content in the super low end of the frequency spectrum. Very few systems will playback music all the way down to the bottom of the human hearing range, and unless you’ve got a subwoofer, you can mostly get rid of that content.

Your low end (under 100 Hz) is a domain shared by kick drums, bass, and occasionally, bass synths. While a rogue floor tom or extended range guitar may dip down there from time to time, you need to accommodate your low-end instrumentation by getting everything else out of their space.

How do we do that? With filters, of course!

A high-pass filter will allow you to set how low each track you’re working with is allowed to go. Standard high-pass filters will have a gradual slope, fading out the low end much like a volume fade on a track. If you set it to 100 Hz, it’s not going to place a hard wall there (unless you set it up that way). This gradual slope keeps your instrumentation sound natural while freeing up all kinds of space for your bass instrumentation.

Reducing Compounding Bass

After you’ve given your bass instruments room to breath, the remaining steps become a bit easier to manage. Instead of fighting EVERYTHING in the mix to make good decisions, you’ve narrowed the playing field down to a handful of relevant elements.

If you don’t do anything at this point, your bass will compound – stacking one on top of each other until you’re left with a garbled, unidentifiable mess. If you’ve ever heard someone down the street blasting music in his or her car with an obnoxiously oversized subwoofer in the trunk, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Their bass is being crammed into a compact space, making it impossible to hear each instrument with any discernable difference from one another.

Bass needs room to grow and expand. Starting with your kick drum, you need to make space for instruments in your bass mix. By finding the fundamental frequency of your kick drum, you can make a narrow notch around that space on your bass and any synths with an EQ of your choice. Even a small cut will allow the kick to stick out above the others.

Another common fix for kick drums is the use of side-chaining, where a copy of the kicks signal is set as the trigger for a compressor or limiter that’s being applied to the other bass instruments. Some producers take this to the extremes of using side-chain to create a pumping/pulsating effect, but subtle side-chaining can be achieved by lowering the compression amount being applied. If you’re looking to experiment with side-chaining, our Finality limiter has a built-in side chain functions and several tools like Look-Ahead, making it a great limiter to learn on.

Combining Your Remaining Bass

What’s left after making room for the bass is the hardest part to separate, but maybe you don’t need to separate them at all. The most common synth basses are used to reinforce a live bass performance, or replace it completely. Regardless of what your bass instruments are doing in the mix, fixing them is not as simple as just making a notch for each – their notes are constantly changing.

Instead, you can glue these performances together on a separate bass bus, where a compressor like BG-Bass can tighten them up and blur the line between live and programmed. While this approach controls the compounding low end problem when both instruments share a particular frequency, it can also work to smooth out higher end content in these instruments, such as the upper mids of a live bass guitar.

A Final Note on Rooms

Your bass problems don’t just stop when your mix is right – you need to make sure your mix environment is properly equipped to accurately represent that low end. Too often, engineers add a subwoofer without thinking if they need it. In a smaller room, you don’t.

Other rooms might have serious bass build up in the corners and phase cancellation nodes throughout the room, making it difficult to get a true picture of the bass. Whether you choose to address this with room treatment or by understanding it and changing your mix approach accordingly is up to you. Simply knowing what’s going on with your room is already a step in the right direction.

How Are You Adapting To Bass Build Up?

If you know you’ve got bass filling up your room, what are you doing to fix your mixes? If you’ve gone through this struggle already and come out on the other side, what advice would you give to someone experiencing too much bass for the first time?

Come share your experience with us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum and see what your peers are doing to fight compounding low end!