How To Mix Bass So It Sits In The Mix
Taking your mixing skills to the next level is difficult as you progress through your career. If you don’t keep learning, your skill set plateaus, and you’re left with boring and lackluster mixes that your listeners will lose interest in. It’s easy to fall into the same old day-in and day-out grind if you’re not seeking out new ideas and inspiration for your mixes.
Fortunately, by reading this you’ve already shown the initiative it takes to keep progressing in your career as a mixer.
When it comes to bass, the mix process always finds a way to bring us back to the basics. You can have a huge collection of processors, but there’s no trickery involved in a good bass tone. You’re using the same kinds of plugins you’ve always used, but sometimes it takes a different perspective to get your bass to sit just right.
We’re going to look at a few of those plugins and how they can make the best out of your bass:
EQing Your Bass
EQ is one of the most basic audio processors and is a common starting point for new engineers to learn about filters and how they affect sound. It also happens to be one that we’re the most dependent on as mixers. Bass is no exception.
If you’re struggling to get a particularly difficult bass guitar to cut through the mix though, there’s a good chance you’re using your EQ on the wrong part of the spectrum.
Most engineers focus on the lower frequency range, because, well, that’s where most of your bass content is. The low end of the spectrum is what gives your mix impact, and a balanced mix in this part of the frequency spectrum can kick your listener right in the chest (in a good way!).
What most engineers overlook is the rest of the spectrum above about 500 Hz. If your bass is primarily holding down the bottom of the mix, why would you worry about the stuff above that?
Simply put, the mid-range frequencies are what make your bass clear and intelligible. Call it presence or bite; your bass needs more than the low-end to cut through the mix. Next time your struggling, try expanding the search with your EQ to include some of those upper bands you’ve been neglecting.
Limit Your Dynamics
This might not surprise you: bass is one of the most dynamic instruments there is. Things like finger players vs picking players make some difference up front, but everything from the type of pickups used to the level you record at can potentially throw a bunch of different obstacles in front of you. Even the best mixers need to standardize their source material a bit to make them easier to work with.
I’m not saying you need to remove all dynamic range from your mix; I’m saying you need to take control of it. Using a limiter on your bass (or any other instrument bouncing around a bit too much) can help smooth out your source material for easier mixing.
Once you’ve got control over the sound, you’ll find it easier to EQ, compress, and do just about everything else you want with your bass. Feel like getting a bit more creative? Try limiting in parallel to keep some of that extreme dynamic range to work with, while still achieving that consistent, leveled-out bass tone.
Rolling Your Bass Up To The Group Level
As engineers and mixers develop their own workflow, many of us have found groups to come in handy when managing large track counts. By grouping similar instruments, not only can we monitor our levels for specific instruments but we can treat the group on it’s own aux track. This type of processing usually gives us a great slot to glue instruments together with bus compression. It’s also the perfect place to make small tweaks as you’re finalizing a mix.
Unfortunately, our bass usually misses the boat when it comes to bus processing. After all, bass is usually only a single track in our mixes unless we’ve reinforced it with a synth or tracked some type of double or alternate mic option.
I’d like to make the case for the bass bus.
By giving your bass it’s own bus, you shift your thinking about how it should be mixed. Rather than getting overlooked when you’re balancing groups, a bass aux track can give you a great way to include the bass in group/bus level mixing (similar to stem mixing, but less limited).
Plugins like BG-Bass shine their brightest at an aux level, and give you the “final checkpoint” for everything from frequency content to compression. While the plugin does fine as an insert on the bass itself, forcing yourself into a bus-focused mindset will help you make decisions on how your bass group balances with things like your vocals or guitars, instead of a single track taking on potentially huge groups.
It’s all about shifting your perspective to take on challenges in a new light.
How Do You Reset Your Perspective?
Do you take frequent breaks from mixing to clear your mind and come back with a fresh perspective? Ear fatigue is definitely a real threat to engineers everywhere, but even worse seems to be the lack of inspiration that can occur when you spend too long working on the same problems.
If you’ve got a way to stay fresh and inspired in the studio, come share it with us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. We’re always interested in seeing how our community comes up with creative solutions to common problems.