7 Tips for Mixing Bass

mixing-cards-1200x500-bass

In parts one, two, and three of this four-part series, we focused on using Neutron 2 for mixing vocalsmixing guitars, and mixing drums. Now, it’s time to bring on the bass, which can be a tricky bugger. Too much of it can swallow up the mix, but too little of it leaves a mix lacking power and warmth.

So check out the video, and read the tips below (plus a few that aren’t in the video).

A word to the wise: these tips aren’t sequential, so feel free to bounce around when trying them.

1. Use the detection filter

Low frequencies produce more energy than highs do. In typical compression schemes, all input frequencies trigger the compressor to act upon the signal. That’s not inherently bad, but it does sometimes yield too much compression on low notes that were played with intentional emphasis.

The trick here is to prevent the lows from triggering the compressor, but still allow them to pass through it. To do this, the compressor needs to have a sidechain with a high-pass filter or a sidechain with selectable frequency bands. In Neutron 2 you can accomplish this with the Detection Filter.

In the image below, the Compressor in Neutron 2 has been left in its default single-band mode, but filters have been enabled for the Detection Circuit—the high-pass filter is at approximately 400 Hz. This filters out the low frequencies from the input to the sidechain, but not from the audio path.

Image 1-Filtered Sidechain_Edited

Detection Filter enabled

2. Trigger sidechain compression with the kick drum

In many genres of music, the bass guitar and kick drum frequently occur simultaneously throughout a song, especially on downbeats. During those times, you have two instruments occupying the low-frequency area at the same time, though the bass often sustains for longer than the kick. To prevent them from fighting, one approach is to let the kick have the priority over the initial attack, then let the bass take over for the sustain. So, how do you achieve that?

 

The key for this trick is to have the kick drum make a compressor quickly attenuate the bass, but only when the kick is played. It sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Refer to the image below and notice the following crucial elements to this configuration.

  • In the Compressor module of Neutron 2 (inserted on the bass track), the sidechain has been activated and assigned to Ext Full. This allows the sidechain to receive signal without frequency filtering from a source outside of the plug-in.

  • The plug-in’s key input (top left of the GUI) is Bus 3 (an unused bus)

  • From the kick track, a send is being routed to Bus 3

Now, each time the kick hits, the bass compressor will turn down the bass a little bit. This will allow the kick to peek through before letting the focus go back to the bass. Although the compressor’s parameters are fairly gentle, what you use is up to you!

Image 2-External Sidechain

External Sidechain

3. Add power with Transient Shaper

The ever-important sustain of a bass guitar can be choked by a poorly constructed instrument, a nice instrument that is incorrectly set up, less than stellar playing technique, and more. When you need more sustain from a bass track, EQ isn’t the solution. Adding more low end with an equalizer would change the sound of the bass and the boost would impact all parts of the envelope (not just the sustain).

The solution? Neutron 2’s Transient Shaper! It gives you single or multi-band control of attack and sustain.

The following image shows the Transient Shaper with bands 1 and 3 activated, though band 3 is bypassed. Band 1 is assigned to frequencies below 500 Hz and has a 4 dB boost applied via the Sustain slider. So, it won’t sustain the high frequencies, but will help fill out the bottom end!

Image 3-MultiBand Transient Shaper

Multiband Transient Shaper

4. Get a tape-style tone with Exciter

Many bassists and audio engineers love the tone of a bass guitar recorded hot to analog tape. The subtle compression and harmonics resulting from the process seems to suit the instrument very well. If you’re like most “commoners,” you don’t have an analog tape machine. It’s all good; just load up the Exciter module in Neutron 2.

To keep it like it was with analog tape, don’t split it up into multiple bands. It’s as easy as activating the Exciter, setting the X-Y control to Tape, then moving the Drive slider up! Push it to the point of audible distortion, then back down just a bit.

Image 4-Exciter

Exciter

5. Even out low end with Dynamic EQ and Static EQ

Due to the setup of a bass, playing technique (or lack thereof), amp characteristics, and mic choice and placement, there may be occasional notes that “jump out” and seem to produce far more low-end than others. One way to address this is to use Neutron 2’s Equalizer, which offers a per-band choice of dynamic or traditional static EQ modes.

As shown in the image below, the Band 1 is set to Dynamic Mode and has a cut centered at 80 Hz that will occur when there’s a lot of signal in that area, which in this case happens when a certain low note is played on the bass. In the second image shown below, a static high-pass filter has been activated at 23 Hz to minimize the presence of rumbly sub-low frequencies no matter what note is being played.

Image 5a-Dynamic EQ

Dynamic EQ

Image 5b-Static Filter

Static Filter

6. Clear up muddiness with Inverse Link

In syncopated kick and bass arrangements, it can be difficult to make both instruments clearly audible and working together to create a solid low end. One approach to fixing this issue is “carving space.” For example, upon boosting 95 Hz on the bass, you would carve out or cut 95 Hz from the kick. This minimizes the likelihood of the two instruments fighting for attention in the frequency domain. Thankfully, Neutron 2’s Equalizer makes the process of inversely EQing the kick and bass very easy.

Refer to the image below and take note of the details.

  • The kick was selected as the Masking Source (Neutron 2 was inserted on the kick track to enable this selection)

  • The Inverse Link button was selected to activate inverse EQing between the bass and kick

  • Compare the opposing boosts and cuts between the bass and kick for bands 1, 2, and 3.

Image 6-Inverse EQ

Inverse EQ

7. Quickly achieve parallel processing

Parallel compression and parallel saturation are common tricks for sprucing up an electric bass guitar sound. In typical analog and DAW setups, it requires a potentially confusing amount of signal copies and/or routing. In Neutron 2, each module has a master Mix control, enabling independent parallel processing for up to six processors without any special setup!

In the following image, you can see a vertical slider for each module (look inside the red box). For this example, aggressive compression and fuzzy harmonic excitation has been blended in via those magical Mix sliders.

Image 7-Parallel Processing

Parallel Processing

Conclusion

To get your bass to sit just right, you may need to use just one Neutron 2 component or in some cases, a daisy-chained monster of multiple modules. Don’t forget to listen at different levels and through several monitoring systems to get an accurate perspective on your low end. Only checking the bass through speakers that roll off at 80 Hz will leave much of the low frequencies unheard. Only disaster and regret can result from that.

Go snag a snack or tasty beverage, then read through the first two articles for mixing vocals and mixing guitar.

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