Learn how to maximize the impact of your low-end in 5 easy steps (plus a few tricks of the trade).
Do you struggle finding the right place to sit your bass guitar in a dense mix? It’s a tough instrument for a lot of engineers. While a lot of instruments fight for definition in the mid-range of the frequency spectrum, bass stretches toward the depths of your mix, encompassing frequencies shared with your kick drum, while still sharing a lot of its range with low-mid focused instruments.
Couple that with the dynamics of a stringed instrument and you’ve got the perfect storm for a troublesome mix element. So how do we not only get bass under control, but accentuate the best parts of it for a beefier mix?
Step 1: Clean It Up
There’s no room for messy string noise or open-string feedback in a dense mix. Having even 10% of your meter taken up by unwanted noise restricts your bass from reaching its 100% dynamic potential.
If you’ve already finished tracking, you might not have had control over the noise that went into the recording, but you can make some simple fixes to get it back in line:
Cut or mute sections without bass
Set a gate if there’s a frequent hum/buzz between notes
Replace inconsistent notes as necessary (can be done using other takes or digitally)
Cleaning your bass guitar up before proceeding to mix saves a ton of time trying to figure out why your processing is inconsistent. For something like a compressor, a higher noise floor or loud string noise can easily trigger unwanted results.
Step 2: Compress Your Bass
Remember those dynamic stringed instruments we were just talking about? During the mix is when you’re really going to want to get them to a consistent level. By adding a compressor to your bass, you’ll be able to dial in the right sound and keep it there.
Depending on the bass, you might be able to get away with light compression. Acoustic performances and anything that should maintain an organic vibe won’t benefit as much from limiting, but still benefit from light compression to catch peaks as they occur.
Heavier, denser bass will almost always benefit from compression, especially compressors that saturate as they compress. Saturation & harmonic distortion can round out a thin bass, and can even sit the bass into the mix better than EQing.
Use your ears – every mix is going to be different, which means each bass will need different compression.
Step 3: Get Your Bass In Sync
Your bass needs to align with the other elements of your mix – gluing your low-end and mid-range together. This means finding the sweet spot for the kick drum, and molding the bass around it so the two can work together to drive your lows and low-mids.
By sweeping a band of an EQ around a kick track (or using a spectral analyzer) you can quickly and easily identify your kick drum’s fundamental frequency.
Once identified, a notch can be made in your bass track to make room for the kick is there’s a lot of overlap. This can be as subtle as a few dB and a wide Q if the two play well together already, or more extreme if your bass is drowning out the kick drum.
Getting your kick and bass in line will do the most to solidify your low-end, and usually proves to be an easier process that fighting through mid-range instruments for presence with bass-heavy instruments.
Step 4: Maximize Your Bass
If your bass still doesn’t quite cut through the mix like you want it to, adding an amp sim to the equation can help give it a bit of bite.
Using an amp sim on bass should be a conscious decision – it can add more drastic coloration to your bass, which may or may not creep into the space your electric guitars are occupying.
But for bass guitars with more low-end and not enough presence, an amp sim could be just the fix. You’ve got complete control over amp setting such as gain, EQ & presence – making amp sims an extremely useful mix tool.
If it’s your first time using an amp sim on bass, we’d recommend steering clear of anything designed to be hi-gain or heavily distorted, as it can take away from the low-end of your bass, leaving you with just another “electric guitar” in the mix.
Step 5: Supplement Your Bass
Once your bass is controlled and balanced, there’s only one thing left to do: sweeten it.
Using Sub Destroyer, we’ve been able to supplement our standard bass recordings with natural-sounding, explosive low-end. By layering digitally generated bass tones under the live performance, we can add a level of detail and perfect pitch accuracy that’s almost impossible to achieve with the bass guitar alone. Here’s how we do it:
Capture a MIDI performance of the live bass (a quick search should show you the fastest way to do this in your DAW).
Load the MIDI onto a new track and load Sub Destroyer as an Insert.
Set your waveform (for the most natural sound, a Sine wave usually works best).
Dial in MIDI setting, paying special attention to portamento (speed between notes).
- Test the Drive & Character knobs in the output section for a more aggressive sound.
Once you’ve found a Sub Destroyer bass sound you like, all you have left to do it balance it with the live bass in your mix. This practice works great to supplement full bass tracks, but can also be used to enhance specific sections of a song where you just need more emphasis.
Have you tried Sub Destroyer on Bass?
A lot of engineers with Sub Destroyer know it works great for creating sub drops, but too many are limiting themselves to that single function. We don’t always have control over the bass tracks being sent to us for mixing, but we will always have control over how they sound in the final mix.
Try Sub Destroyer to supplement your next underwhelming bass track and let us know what you think!