Anyone who’s ever mixed a bass guitar in a song can attest to how difficult it can be. Often, the issue isn’t with the capabilities of the tools they’re using to mix, but rather the design of those tools.
You see – most plugins today aren’t designed to do just one thing well. They’re built for the maximum possible flexibility. This is never more apparent than when working with stock plugins where you’ll often find presets for every possible instrument you might want to tweak.
There’s a better way to approach your bass though, and it comes in the form of multi-band processing. Whether you’ve got a multi-band processor ready to go or you need to adjust your workflow to get a stock plugin to work, we’re here to give you all the info you need to get started.
What Is Multi-Band Processing?
Multi-band processing sounds like some big, complex form of mixing, but it’s really quite simple. When you’re mixing a song, you’re often using broadband processors by default. There are the plugins that treat every audible sound in the spectrum from the lowest lows (20 Hz) to the highest highs (20 kHz).
In contrast, multi-band processors work by breaking up the frequency spectrum into different segments (bands) and treating each range independently.
It can be helpful to visualize a 4-band EQ plugin when working through a multi-band workflow for the first time. Multi-band processors often break up their processing into lows, low-mids, high-mids, and highs. These four ranges are just like the bands in your EQ, and while they may not be as flexible in terms of the frequency they’re centered around or the Q/range of each band, they help break up the work you’re doing.
Multi-band processors take the same core functionality such as compressing or limiting and replicate the algorithm behind them across each band for ultimate control.
Why Use Multi-Band Processing on Bass?
Simply put, bass guitars are particularly receptive to multi-band processing because they themselves are audibly occupying two distinct frequency bands. The lows of a bass guitar hold down the body and power of the performance, but the articulation of each note lives higher in the spectrum, often well into the high-mids.
This is the core reason many engineers and mixers choose to take a multi-band approach when mixing bass. They want to be able to bring that clarity and presence to a bass track when needed without drastically changing the low end. Similarly, they usually want to be able to compress and control super low frequencies without sacrificing the dynamics of the upper-mid range. All these issues are easy to solve for when you’re mixing with a multi-band mindset.
Check out Lenny J’s video below where he talks about the benefits of this strategy when using Bassforge Rex Brown (this particular tip starts around the 2:43 mark):
The Multi-Band Processing Process
The first step to determining which approach you’ll need to take starts with some research about each plugin that you can conduct well ahead of use. If your plugin has a set of crossover frequencies or dedicated bands – congratulations. You’re already working with a multi-band processor (or at least one that’s capable of being broken out into multiple bands).
For all other plugins, you’re going to need to be familiar with aux routing, or at a minimum, duplicating tracks. Essentially, we need to take the broadband signal from our recording session and break it out into multiple bands. This can be as simple as breaking it into a high frequency track and a low frequency track, though many choose to isolate various ranges that best fit their needs. This is a straightforward process that doesn’t require anything more than a high-pass or low-pass filter to exclude the frequencies you don’t want to treat.
From these, it’s just a matter of loading up your plugin on the isolated band of frequencies. Once you’re done processing, simply blend that audio to taste with the source you pulled it out of and you’re good to go!
Improved Processes for Processing
As you can imagine, multi-band processing can get extremely messy without the right resources in place and without the right strategy. I’m certainly not advocating that everyone goes out and break up their entire session into multiple bands of each track – only where it makes sense.
For more tips on streamlining your workflow and using tools like multi-band processing to your advantage, be sure to check out Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone. Inside, you’ll find over 80 pages of content dedicated to crafting incredible bass guitar mixes, including an entire chapter dedicated to multi-band processing!