Smoothing Out That Clanky Bass

Clanky bass tone has a place in a lot of modern metal mixes. While clankiness (is that a word?) has a negative connotation in many situations, it’s rarely the case when talking to hard rock or metal bassists.

The clank is the bite & edge they need to cut through the thickest mixes. It’s the equivalent of a high gain amp to a guitarist. As an engineer, you need to know how to highlight that clank in a mix in a way that sounds aggressive without it being shrill or overly present.

Using just a few steps and a bit of dynamic processing, you’ll be able to smooth out that clanky bass in a way that sounds as great to your listener as it does to your bassist.

Step 1: Break Out The Frequency Ranges

One of the easiest tricks that engineers have in the digital world is the ability to mix different parts of the frequency spectrum independently. By segmenting your tracks into highs, lows, mids, low-mids, high-mids, or any combination of those ranges, you gain a surgical precision when treating your audio.

For the sake of this discussion, a duplicate copy of the bass with a high-pass filter will suffice. Whatever you set the high-pass filter to can be used as the threshold on a low-pass filter and viola: you’ve got a low bass and high bass part!

Step 2: Finding The Problem 

Simply isolating isn’t enough to treat imperfections in a bass guitar. Some engineers think you could just turn down the high-end frequency that has most of the attack (read: clank), but in reality that’s not too different than EQing that range out of the original track. You need to take a new approach.

Instead, focus on what you can do to compress or limit the high-end; after all, smoothing out the sound is about controlling your dynamics. If you still need a bit of EQ, that’s fine, just make sure you’re not doing something that could’ve been accomplished without the setup this approach requires.

Sometimes your low-end frequencies can benefit from this approach too. By removing the higher-frequencies, you may have actually changed the way the low-end reacts to different processors. That spike at 4kHz caused heavy compression at first? Not a problem if you rolled everything above 1kHz out of your low-end track. Compress away.

Step 3: Glue It All Back Together 

Much like the rest of your mix, you want a consistent and coherent sound. You work hard to get everything to sit right, and split bass processing shouldn’t tear down the rest of the mix.

Using bus compression in the right way, bass guitars that have been separated into different tracks can easily be glued back together in a way that sounds seamless. After all, their source material is perfectly phase-aligned.

Tools like BG-Bass give engineers a way to smooth out any remaining inconsistencies between the two bass tracks too, making them perfect for a clanky bass that needs just a bit more compression to make it shine.

Check out Nick’s approach to gluing two bass tracks together using BG-Bass:

Once you’ve got your bass pieced back together, your listener won’t have a clue the lengths you went to for the tone, it’ll just sound right. Perhaps even better – your bassist will think you’re a wizard when it comes to perfecting bass tone. In a way, you kind of are.

How Are You Fighting Bad Bass Tone?

Don’t get me wrong, clanky bass has a perfect fit in a lot of music I’ve worked on, but sometimes it takes a bit of work to get it just right.

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to bass?

Let me know over in our JST Forum on Facebook, where thousands of other engineers and producers have already joined the conversation.