Turning your mixes into a polished, professional final product is a tedious, detail-focused effort. Mixers work to isolate problem areas in individual tracks, clean them up, and tie them all together for an emotional, dynamic mix (hopefully).
A great place to start looking at your mix from that 20,000 ft view, where the individual tracks don’t matter nearly as much as the balance from left to right, and the spread over the entire frequency spectrum. This is where many engineers start hearing major problems like harsh high end and mid-range masking between instruments.
But do you know what the most common problem area is at that view? The low-end content in the mix. If you don’t take some preventative measures to get your low end cleaned up ahead of time, the buildup of rumble and wasted space will be enough to make you question the tracking engineer’s capabilities (even if you were the one that recorded it).
Luckily, there a couple quick steps go a long way to fixing this important part of the frequency spectrum right up.
Cut It Out
If your session is like most, you’ve got a lot of junk building up in the low end that you likely can’t even hear!
Things like electrical hum, air conditioning, and more find their way into all types of microphones, sometimes where you’d least expect it. If you’ve got a spot mic on a cymbal, how much good do you think 100 Hz is really going to do for it’s sound?
If you don’t need it – cut it out. Just like the advice I give to engineers with too many unnecessary tracks, your mix’s low end can be cleaned up just by removing the low-end from tracks where it’s not needed.
A single hi-pass filter will work just fine for this, or if you have some other EQing already in use, you should be able to dial it out right there from the existing plugin. Start with the frequency set at a low level, potentially one that’s even inaudible. Then slowly raise the frequency until your start hearing the track being altered and back it off just a hair.
While rolling off the low end on a single track might not have a huge, noticeable impact immediately, rolling off the low end across groups can start to add up quickly. If you’ve got a dozen guitar tracks recorded with the same hum on each track, removing it will clean up your mix faster than any other EQing could.
Once you’re cleaned up, you can start to mix individual tracks, seating them in exactly the right spot for your song. The pocketing relies heavily on timing and a good performance, but there’s still a lot you can do to push your bass in the right direction.
The easiest way to smooth out and improve a bass is through the use of a compressor, such as BG-Bass. The compressor works to both limit the dynamic range and accentuate/draw out some of that “polished” character we’re looking to find. It makes the bass easier to control and mold into your perfect mix.
One of the biggest things that beginners make when working with bass though is assuming it’s a low-end only instrument. It’s not.
In fact, the majority of the bass tone you’re used to hearing is the mid-range attack as each note is played, followed by the much lower resonance that glues your low end to the rest of the mix. It’s as much about getting that attack to sit right as it is about the resonance.
Joel Wanasek knows this all too well, which is why his signature BG-Bass plugin was built with a Top & Bottom Mode, allowing engineers to compress both bands independently within a single plugin. To see each mode in action, check out Fluff’s In The Studio approach to a nasty bass tone:
Hear how the slightly anemic-sounding bass guitar was able to have it’s low-end crushed, while the top-end remained relatively unaffected? By working with the two bands independently, you get a lot of the same flexibilities that parallel compression affords your dynamics!
Better Bass For All
Bass doesn’t have to be an obstacle if you know how to isolate it. Just like every other part of your mix, your low-end content needs a bit of attention and glue to make it stick together with the rest of the instruments. Once you get the other instruments out of the way, you can work faster and smarter on your bass mix.
Do you have tips on isolating your bass-heavy instruments like bass guitars and kick drums? Come share them with us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum and we might feature your approach in a future blog!