Top 10 Tips for Mixing Bass Guitar
By Anderton |
Can't get your bass to fit right in the mix? Then follow these tips
By Craig Anderton
If there’s one instrument that messes with people’s minds while mixing, it’s bass. Often the sound is either too tubby, too thin, interferes too much with other instruments, or isn’t prominent enough . . . yet getting a bass to sit right in a mix is essential. So, here are ten tips on how to make your bass “play nice with others” during the mixing process.
1 CHECK YOUR ACOUSTICS
Small project studio rooms reveal their biggest weaknesses below a couple hundred Hz, because the length of the bass waves can be longer than your room dimensions—which leads to bass cancelations and additions that don’t tell the truth about the bass sound. Your first acoustic fix should be putting bass traps in the corners, but the better you can treat your room, the closer your speakers will be to telling the truth. If acoustic treatment isn’t possible, then do a reality check with quality headphones.
2 MUCH OF THE SOUND IS IN THE FINGERS
Granted, by the time you start mixing, it’s too late to fix the part—so as you record, listen to the part with mixing in mind. As just one example, fretted notes can give a tighter, more defined sound than open strings (which are often favored for live playing because they give a big bottom—but can overwhelm a recording). Also, the more a player can damp unused strings to keep them from vibrating, the “tighter” the part.
3 COMPRESSION IS YOUR FRIEND
Normally you don’t want to compress the daylights out of everything, but bass is an exception, particularly if you’re miking it. Mics, speakers, and rooms tend to have really uneven responses in the bass range—and all those anomalies add up.
Universal Audio’s LA-2A emulation is just one of many compressors that can help smooth our response issues in a bass setup.
Compression can help even out the response giving a smoother, rounder sound. Also, try using parallel compression—i.e., duplicate the bass track, but compress only one of the tracks. Squash one track with the compressor, then add in the dry signal for dynamics. Some compressors include a dry/wet control to make it easy to adjust a blend of dry and compressed sounds.
4 THE RIGHT EQ IS CRUCIAL
Accenting the pick/pluck sound can make the bass seem louder. Trying boosting a bit around 1kHz, then work upward to about 2kHz to find the “magic” boost frequency for your particular bass and bassist. Also consider trimming the low end on either the kick or the bass, depending on which one you want to emphasize, so that they don’t fight. Finally, many mixes have a lot of lower midrange buildup around 200-400Hz because so many instruments have energy in that part of the spectrum. It’s usually safe to cut bass a bit in that range to leave space for the other instruments, thus providing a less muddy overall sound; sometimes cutting just below 1kHz, like around 750-900Hz, can also give more definition.
5 TUNING IS KEY
If the bass foundation is out of tune, the beat frequencies when the harmonics combine with other instruments are like audio kryptonite, weakening the entire mix. Beats within the bass itself are even worse. Tune, baby, tune! This can’t be emphasized enough. If you get to mixdown and find the bass has notes that are out of tune, cheat: Many pitch correction tools intended for vocals will work with single-note bass lines.
6 PUT HIGHPASS FILTERS ON OTHER INSTRUMENTS
To make for a tighter, more defined low end overall, clean up subsonics and low frequencies on instruments that don’t really have any significant low end (e.g., guitars, drums other than kick, etc.).
The QuadCurve EQ in Cakewalk Sonar’s ProChannel has a 48dB/octave highpass filter that’s useful for cleaning up low frequencies in non-bass tracks.
A low cut filter, as used for mics, is a good place to start. By carving out more room on the low end, there will be more space for the bass to fit comfortably in the mix. The steeper the slope, the better.
7 TWEAK THE BASS IN CONTEXT
Because bass is such an important element of a song, what sounds right when soloed may not mesh properly with the other tracks. Work on bass and drums as a pair—that’s why they’re called the “rhythm section”—so that you figure out the right relationship between kick and bass. But also have the other instruments up at some point to make sure the bass supports the mix as a whole.
8 BEWARE OF PHASE ISSUES
It’s common to take a direct out along with a miked or amp out, then run them to separate tracks. Be careful, though: The signal going to the mic will hit later than the direct out, because the sound has to travel through the air to get to the mic. If you use two bass tracks, bring up one track, monitor in mono (not stereo), then bring up the other track. If the volume dips, or the sound gets thinner, you have a phase issue. If you’re recording into a DAW, simply slide the later track so it lines up with the earlier track. The timing difference will only be a few milliseconds (i.e., one millisecond for every foot of distance from the speaker), so you’ll probably need to zoom way in in order to align the tracks properly.
9 RESPECT VINYL’S SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS
Vinyl represents a tiny amount of market share, but it’s growing and you never know when something you mix will be released on vinyl. So, if your project has even a slight chance of ending up on vinyl, pan bass to the precise center. Bass is one frequency range where there should be no stereo imaging.
10 DON’T FORGET ABOUT BASS AMP SIMS
You’ll find some excellent bass amp sims in Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig, Waves GTR, Live 6 POD Farm, and Peavey’s ReValver, as well as the dedicated Ampeg SVX plug-in (from the AmpliTube family) offered by IK Multimedia.
IK Multimedia’s Ampeg SVX gives solid bass sounds in stand-alone mode, but when used as a plug-in, can also “re-amp” signals recorded direct. This shows the Cabinet page, where you set up your “virtual mic.”
These open up the option of recording direct, but then “re-amping” during the mix to get more of a live sound. You’ll also have more control compared to using a “real” bass amp. Even if you don’t want to use a bass sim as your primary bass sound, don’t overlook the many ways they can enhance a physical bass sound.
Craig Anderton is Editor in Chief of Harmony Central and Executive Editor of Electronic Musician magazine. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered hundreds of tracks), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.