When you’re working on building a better foundation for your mix, starting with the clarity and consistency of your bass track is the only way to go. Yes – you need to consider how it might interact with your kick drum in that range, but that’s a simple fix…
The kick drum is generally a static note with minimal fluctuation based on the tuning of the kick drum and the velocity at which your drummer hits it. Carve out that space or duck it with a sidechain on your bass track and you’re golden as far as the kick and the bass go.
That’s no secret though. It’s something nearly every engineer and mixer does instinctively to give both instruments their space in the low-end mix. Today, we’re going to look at a lesser-known technique that applies predominantly to the bass guitar. Done right, this technique gives you insane presence and clarity in your mix without overpowering or muddying up a thing.
There Are Two Types of Bass in Each Track
You read that correctly – each bass track in your session has two styles going on at once. On one side of the bass, you’ve got the top end – the attack of each note that cuts through the midrange of your mix. This is the part of your bass that’s most likely to be heard by listeners, especially if they’re listening on smaller speakers without much low end.
On the flip side, each bass track is going to have plenty of bottom end too. These are the resonant notes that are felt more often than they’re heard and the characteristic that’s going to fill out that low end foundation the rest of your mix builds from.
Both types of bass are equally as important in contributing to the overall mix, as without one the other is ineffective. A mix with tons of bottom end and not much top end is going to be less intelligible. You might feel the bass, but your ears can’t latch on to where it’s coming from. On smaller speakers, you may lose the bass altogether.
A mix with too much top end and not much bottom end is going to sound thin. This is super apparent in oldies where there’s very little bottom end compared to modern mixes. Unless you’re going for that vintage sound, you’ll want plenty of those lower frequencies in your bass track.
Creating More Consistent Bass
Just like any other track with a dynamic problem, compression is going to be your best solution for creating a more consistent performance in the mix. Compression reduces the peaks of your signal allowing you to raise the overall level without clipping. Each instrument reacts to compression a bit differently, but at the end of the day it’s always about controlling those peaks and transients.
Using compression on bass is not a new concept, but the trick we’ll discuss here is not about whether to use compression; it’s about how to get the most out of your compressor with a new approach that addresses both types of bass – top end and bottom end.
Split Compression Technique
A split compressor is going to be the best option when it comes to mixing bass because it allows you to shape your top end and bottom end independently. Effectively, split compression is a simplified multiband compressor. It doesn’t have as many bands to work with, but it’s designed specifically with bass in mind. Joel Wanasek’s signature BG-Bass plugin is a great example of this plugin format.
What you end up doing with a split compressor is taking the bottom end of your bass and compressing it heavily – creating completely smoothed out dynamics that make the notes clear and consistent. After that, the top end of your bass can be compressed to taste. Top end often requires less compression as the attack of each note is already clear in the mix. A little compression goes a long way with top end content.
Check out this demo from Sven Janssens where he applies the technique to one of his mixes:
The bass ends up coming out super clear in a metal mix that’s dense with plenty of other instrumentation to compete with. Well done, Sven!
Better Bass Tone
Split compression is just one aspect of a great bass tone, but there’s plenty upstream in the signal chain that makes a difference. If you’re trying to figure out the right order for your signal chain to take a bass DI to a final product, make sure you check out our eBook, Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone. It’s got everything you need for hard rock and metal bass tracking and mixing!