Mixing bass is one of the toughest parts of producing a balanced track. Pro mixes almost all the time have a powerful low-end that moves air and provides the track with a solid foundation. However, what does it take to make bass sounds fit effectively in a mix? What are the main strategies and how do they apply to several types of bass?
In this article, I’ll break down the basics and recommend five methods to mix better bass in your tracks.
Bass mixing fundamentals
Let’s start to find the answer to why it’s so hard to get your low end to sit right in a mix.
First off, there are many sources in any DAW session that have energy in the low frequencies.
Drums, synth patches, acoustic instruments, and even vocals include a spectrum of frequencies with some energy concentrated within the low end.
One of the major mistakes beginner and intermediate mixers make has to do with this issue. Mixing music is about clearing up space for each sound to take place. However, it may feel uncomfortable to filter a lot of low ends if you listen to your sounds solo.
However, if you listen within the context of the mix, the truth is you should use a high-pass filter to clear out excessive lows on many elements that don’t have to occupy this range.
Just begin with a plan for which instruments will sit in each range and concentrate on an important frequency to bring out these qualities.
In fact, the most effective solution is to capture sounds with this in mind so you don’t end up with too much bass in the first place.
Secondly, bedroom studios can have notoriously poor acoustics if they aren’t arranged with acoustic treatment.
This means that even if you have a superb set of monitor speakers, your room might offer you an inaccurate image of your mix—especially for your low frequencies.
It means you’ll find it hard to clearly hear the separation between instruments and gauge how low end much is too much.
6 Ideas for Better Bass Mixing
Even though it may seem tough, you’ll be able to mix bass well if you understand the issues I described above and follow a handful of key strategies.
Here are 6 essential ideas for mixing better bass.
1. Know your low frequencies
How well do you realize your frequency ranges by ear? If you’ve never stopped to consider exactly which ones you should boost or reduce with EQ, it’s time to brush up.
Try boosting and reducing particular ranges as you sculpt your sounds with EQ. Your outcomes will be different in each mix, but here’s a rough breakdown of the bass frequency ranges to know.
30 Hz and below
This is the deepest bass range that some producers name the “sub-bass.”
It’s very close to the lower limit of human hearing at 20 Hz. Sounds in this range are more felt than heard.
Actually, sub-bass sounds cause issues within the majority of mixes since consumer speakers can rarely reproduce these frequencies well.
Some ultra-low end information could also be essential depending on the genre, but if your mix lacks clarity, it’s often best to remove it or decrease it with a high-pass filter.
This range often consists of the low-end body of the bass drum, whether it’s a kick sample or acoustic equipment.
Since it’s the lowest audible range within the mix, many producers like to boost it here to make the mix sound deeper and more extended. My advice is to be gentle and choose just one aspect to intensify right here.
This range often consists of the ability and weight of the bass sound itself. Many of the notes include their fundamental frequency in this area.
It definitely needs to stand out within the mix, just be careful about boosting too much. Extra energy here can conflict with the low mids.
2. Carve out around it
As you make mix decisions about your bass, the rest of the sounds are important too.
Shifting up the frequency range, the low midrange has a strong impact on the space where your bass can fit.
The issue is that most instruments and voices have a lot going on in this area. The trick is to carve it out enough that nothing sounds thin and still provide space below for bass and kick.
You’ll typically hear engineers suggest scooping lots of 300 Hz out of kick drum sounds. The reason is to declutter this area so the low-end instruments command only one range.
You are able to do the same with your bass sound if it has lots of energy in this area.
3. Increase the highs
This bass mixing method may be counterintuitive for some. However, most bass sounds get their definition from the high frequencies, not just the subby lows.
Just like the other sounds in your mix, there’s a lot happening in a complex bass sound in several frequency ranges.
In some circumstances, you may want to boost the high end to get enough sparkle for bass to stand out within the mix.
And while high frequencies like 8 kHz and above are worth exploring, other bass types may need extra power within the upper mids.
In these cases, including energy at 2.5 kHz-5 kHz may give bass sound the extra push they need to compete in an aggressive mix.
Just be careful as you increase frequencies in this range since including too much can get harsh.
4. Concentrate on the attack
It’s tempting to use heavy compression to bass sounds to make sure your low-end elements are consistent and controlled.
Good compression is essential for bass, but it’s easy to go too far. The initial attack of the bass is essential to give your brain the necessary details about its timbre.
Squash it down too much and it won’t pop—regardless of how much you push the fader.
The solution is to make use of a slow enough attack time to ensure the initial transient has space to breathe. If you’re unsure how that works, head over to our guide to compression for the full breakdown.
When you’re utilizing a synth bass with a naturally subdued attack, try adjusting the patch to get extra definition at the note onset.
Hot tip: Using the noise oscillator in your patch may also help add energy to the onset of sounds created with analog-style subtractive synthesis. Alternatively, FM synth basses are naturally punchy and aggressive, so these are worth a try if you’re stuck.
5. Add saturation
Many modern bass synth types require flat, subby bass tones that increase underneath the mix.
I’m talking about any bass synth with roots in the pitched 808 kick oscillator that’s common in trap and hip-hop.
This sound is very close to a raw sine wave with no extra harmonics within the high frequencies.
This may make it tough to attack with EQ since boosting the highs won’t have a powerful impact.
It’s the reason why many producers use saturation to help give it a harder edge. Saturation plugins introduce controlled clipping that adds harmonic richness to the sound.
This extra information helps the upper midrange frequencies stand out and be heard within the mix.
A nice trick is to blend saturation in parallel so you’ll be able to control the balance of the dry and saturated sounds.
Bass is your mix foundation
Mixing bass could be difficult for some producers, but it’s nothing to be scared of once you break it down.
Actually, mixing bass well is one of the most essential skills for any engineer.
If you understand the fundamentals and have a few key methods to guide you, you’ll never fear bad bass again.