The quest for a powerful but controlled mix goes on – we show you five ways to beef up your bottom end
Mixing bass and low-end is one of the most difficult aspects of producing music. Not only do elements in your track have to sit together perfectly with careful EQ and considered compression, some budget speakers can add their own bass that isn’t really there. Worse still, others might not be capable of accurately reflecting the bass, meaning you’re not really hearing what’s going in within the track. Add to that the fact that without the right treatment in your studio or room, bass reflections and vibrations can cause unwanted and unnatural bass to creep into your mixing environment. In short: it’s tough, even for the most established producers.
But not all is lost – we’ve put together five ways to get tight, controlled and powerful bass to boost your track’s energy and fatness without overloading the speakers. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to bigger, badder bass.
Reference on headphones
It might sound boring, but referencing on headphones you trust is a sure-fire way to make sure your mix is on the right track. Removing both your speakers and the room’s acoustics from the signal path – two elements that can dramatically affect how your bass and low-end sounds – allow you to more accurately monitor the mix. However, be wary of hi-fi or more consumer headphones that might add their own bass to the signal path, stick to brands like AKG, Beyerdynamic and AudioTechnica for a truer version of the music.
Synth bass power
When it comes to bass and low frequencies, tuning is key – no pun intended. Lower notes have longer wavelengths which means when they overlap they’re more likely to clash. One way to secure a solid low end is to use a trick that involves a gate, sidechain and sine wave synth note. A sine wave is a pure synth tone – you can recreate it on any basic soft synth. Here’s how it’s done:
- Create a MIDI clip and draw in a sustained note at the root note of your track – for example, C1.
- Drag the note out across four bars and loop the clip for the length of your track.
- Put a Gate plugin and raise the threshold until there’s silence.
- Route your kick drum as the sidechain key on the Gate plugin.
- Adjust the attack and release settings until you hear the sine wave come through every time the kick drum sounds.
Every time the kick sounds it will ‘trigger’ the gate, and the sine wave will be heard. This gives you a solid bass foundation to build your mix around and as the sine wave is in the key of your track, it means your low end will always be in tune with the rest of your tracks’ instruments, avoiding clashes and phasing. As we mentioned before you can also cut the bass on every other channel, knowing it’s taken care of by the sine wave. Simple but very effective!
Parallel compression is the process of doubling an audio or MIDI part, applying a heavy amount of compression to the second channel and blending the signal back in with the original. When used correctly, compression is a great way to control the levels of an audio signal and can also tighten the bass and low end. But too much compression can result in an unnatural sound, removing the dynamics and ‘air’ on the original signal. Parallel compression gives you the best of both worlds, allowing the low end to be controlled and tight, while retaining the air and dynamics of the original.
Less is more
It might seem counterproductive, but cutting the very low-end of your track can actually result in a clearer, more controlled bass. Very low frequencies – 40Hz and under – can over-power the mix, creating a ‘cloudy’ bass sound. Using a high-pass filter up to around 30Hz (slightly higher or lower depending on genre) on every track that isn’t a bass sound – and even using it on the master channel – can clean up the mix as a whole and allow the frequencies just above the cut off to breathe. It can also be helpful to have a slight bump in the EQ at the cut off point to introduce more of a tight bass sound.
Dirt is good
Finally, if you’re still struggling with a loose and uncooperative low end or want to put the final fatness on your track, careful use harmonic distortion will do just that. Distortion may be a dirty word – some types of distortion can completely destroy a sound – but using it subtly can introduce harmonics that help your whole mix stand out and bite. The sound of classic tape machines and legendary compressors are often helped by this subtle distortion that very subtly clips the signal and in the process, introduces harmonics to the signal. These pleasing-sounding harmonics can lift the bass, mids and highs and make your mix pop.
The best way to get this sound is to use a high-quality tape machine clone such as Slate VTM or UAD’s Studer clone, but if you’re on a budget, even Logic or Live’s Saturator will do the job. If you find it’s too much on the master, drop it on key channels or buss tracks instead.