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7 Tips for Mixing Bass
When it comes to mixing, getting your low end nice and tight is crucial to a well-balanced mix. Too much bass can swallow up the mix, but too little of it can leave a track lacking power and warmth. In this article, I’ll cover seven tips for how to mix bass guitar using Neutron.
You can get access to Neutron along with dozens of other mixing and mastering plug-ins with Music Production Suite.
This article references a previous version of Neutron. Learn about Neutron 4 and its powerful features including Assistant View, Target Library, Unmask, and more.
A word to the wise: these tips aren’t sequential, so feel free to bounce around when trying them out for yourself. Now, are you ready to get low? Let’s get started!
Jump to these tips:
1. Use the detection filter
When it comes to adding compression to your bass, you want to be careful not to over-compress the low end. If you just slap a standard compressor on your bass track, all of the frequency bands will trigger the compressor to act upon the signal. Since low frequencies produce more energy than high frequencies do, this can sometimes cause too much compression to be applied to low notes that were played with intentional emphasis.
One trick for getting a warm, but present, bass sound is to use a detection filter within your compressor. The detection filter in the Compressor module of Neutron allows you to filter out the low frequencies so they bypass the Compressor without triggering it. This allows your low end to remain dynamic, while still applying compression to anything above the frequency band you set.
To set your detection filter in Neutron's Compressor, simply click into the detection filter spectrum view (located at the top left of the Compressor window). Then, enable the detection circuit filter and set your high-pass filter frequency to about 400 Hz. This will prevent the low frequencies from triggering the Compressor, allowing you to add compression only to the higher frequencies in your signal. This prevents over-compression of your low end, while making sure your bass sounds crisp and punchy.
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. In the Compressor module of Neutron (inserted on the bass track), activate “Sidechain” and assign it to “Ext Full.” This allows the sidechain to receive an audio signal from another track in your session. Then, set the sidechain input to come from your kick track (this process will vary depending on your DAW, but the sidechain control is typically located toward the top of the Neutron plug-in window).
Now, each time the kick hits, the 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. Feel free to play around with the Attack, Release, Ratio, and Threshold controls to dial in the right sound for your track.
Neutron’s Oscilloscope View (as seen above) makes this task even easier because it allows you to visualize exactly what’s happening to your audio in real time. To access this view, simply click the sine wave icon to the top left of Neutron Pro’s Compressor window. Although it’s best to go fairly gentle on compression if you want to keep a natural sounding bass, how much you use is up to you!
3. Add power with Transient Shaper
When you need more sustain from a bass track, EQ isn’t the solution. Adding more low end with an equalizer will change the overall sound of the bass because this boost will impact all parts of the envelope (not just the sustain).
The solution? Use Neutron's Transient Shaper module! The Transient Shaper module in Neutron gives you single or multi-band control of the attack and sustain, allowing you full control over the envelope of the bass.
The following image shows the Transient Shaper with 2 bands activated. 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 it will help fill out the bottom end.
You can also use Neutron’s Transient Shaper to increase the attack (or decrease the sustain) if you’re going for a more punchy, plucky bass sound. Since Neutron's Transient Shaper gives you complete control of your bass’s envelope, you can use it to really hone in on the exact sound needed for your track.
Mixing different instruments?
Learn more about how to mix different instruments from drums to vocals with our mixing tutorials.
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 to achieve this effect.
Neutron’s Exciter module allows you to split up the processing applied into multiple frequency bands, each with their own blend of saturation type (Tape, Tube, Warm, and Retro). But, to get the classic analog tape effect, simply activate the Exciter module in Neutron, set the X-Y control to Tape, then move the Drive slider up. Push it to the point of audible distortion, then back down just a bit. You can hear this technique in action in the audio examples below.
5. 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 to “carve out space” from either the kick or the bass.
For example, upon boosting at 95 Hz on the bass, you would carve out (or cut) at 95 Hz from the kick. This minimizes the likelihood of the two instruments fighting for attention in the frequency domain. Thankfully, Neutron's Equalizer has a handy Inverse Link feature that makes the process of inversely EQing the kick and bass very easy.
To activate Inverse Link, you’ll need to make sure you have an instance of Neutron loaded onto both the bass and kick tracks. Then, open the Neutron plug-in on your bass track and, next to “Masking” at the top of the Equalizer window, select your kick track from the drop down menu. At the bottom of the Equalizer window, turn on Inverse Link. Now, any time you make a boost to a frequency band on the bass, Neutron will automatically create a cut of the same amount on the kick’s EQ.
Although the example in the image above only shows one boost/cut using the Inverse Link feature, you can add multiple EQ adjustments to help sculpt the sound of your low end and clear up any muddiness that may be present.
PRO TIP: Inverse Link can also be used if your bass is butting heads with your guitars anywhere along the frequency spectrum. Essentially, wherever you may need to carve out space for an instrument, you can use Neutron’s Inverse Link feature to quickly clean up any frequency areas where too many instruments are competing for attention.
6. 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, 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 next to each module along the top of the Neutron’s plug-in window. For this example, aggressive compression and fuzzy harmonic excitation has been blended in via those magical Mix sliders.
7. Widen the top end of your bass
Most audio engineers will tell you to keep your bass perfectly centered in mono. Whereas this is a good rule of thumb for bass frequencies (anything below about 150 Hz), if you always insist on leaving your bass tracks in mono for every mix, this could leave bass instruments with a lot of harmonics sounding dull and drab.
If your bass needs a little more spice, try routing your bass output to two separate buses. On the first, use a low-pass filter in Neutron to only allow everything from about 200 Hz and below to pass through. Leave this first bus in mono. On the second bus, add another instance of Neutron with a high-pass filter that allows everything above 200 Hz to pass through. Then, using the Width feature at the bottom right of the plug-in window, add a bit of stereo width until the bass sits well in your mix.
Doing this will give you the best of both worlds. You’ll have the deep lows of your bass in mono so you won’t run into any phasing issues, but you’ll also give your bass instrument more of a sense of space in your mix. Check it out in the audio examples below.
Bass in Mono
Bass with Neutron Width Added
Fit your bass in the mix
To get your bass to sit just right, you may need to use only one of the modules in Neutron. Or, in some cases, you may opt for a daisy-chained monster of multiple modules. But, no matter what your bass requires, Neutron has all the tools you’ll need to get your bass to sit well in any mix—all within one convenient plug-in.
If you’d like to see many of these tips in action, check out the video below. It was created using a previous version of Neutron, but the concepts are still the same. Get the most up-to-date version of Neutron by getting your copy of Music Production Suite or starting your free trial of a Music Production Suite Pro membership. Happy mixing!