Big, powerful bass is an important part in most recordings. But it’s also very easy to let it get out of hand and muddy up the mix. In this article, we’ll look at key ways to manage your bass for a better sounding track.
Hearing accurately is the first battle.
One of the toughest things about getting the bass right is actually hearing it. It’s tough to treat a room perfectly for bass without professional acoustic treatment and design plans. But, with a few tricks, you can get pretty close.
Bass traps are a great place to start. You can make your own or purchase them from manufacturers like Primacoustic. In essence, they are rigid fiberglass boards wrapped in fabric that go in the corner of your room to form a triangle with the corner.
By placing one 2’ x 4’ panel in each corner of your room, you can significantly control the amount of bass that bounces around in your room, effectively helping you hear things clearer and make better decisions in the mix.
Checking on Multiple Systems
Checking your track on different speaker setups in different rooms can help to point out any issues that you may have missed in your main studio space. A lot of people like to check their tracks in the car, but try listening on different headphones, in your living room, or even at a fellow producer’s studio to hear what you might be missing out on.
Then, once you identify the issue, try to listen for it in your own space. Once you know what to listen for and can fix it, you’ll have an easier time correcting it in the future.
Choose the Right Samples and Patches
It’s fun to start throwing loops together and trying out ideas, especially with an amazing tool like Splice Sounds at your disposal, where you have a million amazing samples at your fingertips. But sometimes it’s important to know when not to use a particular sample.
When you’re choosing samples, consider what the low end is doing. If you’re working on a track with a booming 808 bass sound, don’t reach for a kick sample that also has a long decay and boomy low end. Instead, go for a tighter, punchier kick sound to blend nicely with the booming 808 you already have. By choosing complementary samples, your tracks will be a lot cleaner in the low end.
One at a time, please.
This tip has to do with the arrangement just as much as the sounds. Layering bass parts can be a cool thing, but try to keep it to one line at a time if possible. If you do want to combine samples or patches, try using subtractive EQ to take out the parts that don’t fit well. (This is where you pull out frequencies using an equalizer, rather than adding them.)
Mixing Tips for Tighter Bass
No matter if you pick the perfect samples or have the perfect arrangement, it’s always helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to get an even tighter bass sound on your track.
The Pultec EQ Scoop
- The classic Pultec Equalizer had the unique ability to both boost and cut the exact same frequency. The result was a unique EQ curve that is still used today.
- To achieve a similar EQ curve using a parametric EQ, simply pull out a low-mid frequency (maybe around 200 Hz) and boost a frequency just below that (maybe 180 Hz). For an even cleaner sound, roll off everything below 40 Hz with a 12 dB / oct high-pass filter.
- Using a multi-band compressor can be a great tool to help manage bass. By compressing the lowest band (20 Hz – 200 Hz) more than the rest, you can effectively create a tighter bass sound. Try this out on just the bass track or the entire mix — but be careful not to over-compress or you’ll lose all of the energy in your track.
- Even on a sub-bass track, I will usually roll off starting around 30 Hz or 40 Hz with a 12dB / oct high-pass filter. This just keeps things cleaner and helps avoid muddy bass.
Bass Fader Rides
- Like with vocal tracks, a bass track can benefit from a fader ride. Especially if it is a real electric bass, it can be a great improvement to write automation to help compensate for varying bass levels. Just be careful not to mistake an inaccuracy in your room for a drastic change in bass level — use the meters in your DAW to check yourself.
If All Else Fails…
Use your meters! Use a spectrum analyzer (which usually comes as a feature of most EQ plugins) to see what the low end looks like. Play some of your favorite tracks through the spectrum analyzer and see what the balance looks like between the low frequencies and the higher frequencies, as well as what shape the frequencies take between 20 Hz – 200 Hz. Try to get your track to look like this as well, and you’ll be on your way to better bass!
What are your favorite tricks for getting the bass just right in your track? Any techniques or plugins I should try out?
PALA is a pop songwriter and producer with over a decade of experience. He has worked with many of the top organizations in music including the GRAMMY Foundation. His current project, PALA Sound Studio, features a brand new song every Friday. Many of his tracks start as collaborations on Splice – splice his projects and follow him here.