Bet you didn’t know BASS is the Enemy in Mixing Music?

try telling me that isn't well mixed

try telling me that isn’t well mixed

How do I get Bass to sit in the mix? Why won’t the Sub-Bass sit properly in my mix? Why is the Bass swallowing the rest of my mix? Question, question, question. Over and over in every music software forum.

What happens is that you want to make a mix with lots of punch and welly running off the bottom end of your mate’s car Sub and you can’t get it right. Snoop’s mix sounds righteous, Skrillex makes you want to drop your pants, yet your mix sounds like bollocks. You turn up the bass and it sounds worse than bollocks and now you are depressed and angry with the world so you have to make posts in forums and people dump on you and you are feeling that your bollocks aren’t even worth minding at the fag-end of a Sat’day night on the town… (full credit to you if you can untangle all the musical references in this article)

This is a new frontier as in my day studios rolled for a lot of dime and the internet wasn’t even on computers! That meant that:

  1. A budding musician went to a studio where some other dude (or Renata who probably preferred not to be called dude) did the mixing bit. The musician hung over the geek’s shoulder and said I want more bass, or make my part louder and he’s doing his best to ignore you. Bottom line he did the mix and the musician lived with it.
  2. A budding sound engineer or producer blagged his way into a studio as a tea boy, floor sweep, or tape op (we won’t talk about the other things one had to do to get into a studio but if you see “Behind The Candelabra” you are in the same drift). There you would learn how to make mixes that worked. They had to work for AM Radio, or that two inch B&W TV speaker. If you couldn’t get that pretty fast you were replaced, done, toast, back to being a drummer boy LOL.

The twain rarely met, at least not till one or the other was established as a pro. And then Trevor Horn leaped the fence blurring it for all of us.

Actually Trevor is not the one to blame, it was the guys in little studios with overblown Ataris and dinky Apple Macs who changed the world as they were mixing straight to cassette and straight to vinyl for the floor and did it all. They learned or burned just as the kids do now only the kids now don’t access the crowd as there is no stage for them; nowhere to learn, test, hone, test, learn, test…

Soundcloud, Bandcamp, YouTube…

(this line is blank as while the idea of music posting boards is wonderful, you can post things all day and you will be ignored and you don’t even know why so you won’t learn jack)

Marines get trained before they get thrown at the enemy so that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot and have at least a fair chance of playing to win. Budding “producer” kids who scam a copy of Live or Reason off a mate don’t get any training so they have to ooga chakka themselves or they don’t get to reach the beach.

(get that sub) Bass Out Of My Face (London)

You Solo sounds, audition them, mouse a line and do it again till you think you have a song. Each instrument sounds wonderful. Then you pop em together and jambalaya! Hate, hate, vomit.

Well it has to balance. Too much of anything creates imbalance. So too much bass in a mix makes mud. If you can’t, or don’t want to, accept this then please leave the music biz right now to save lots of people, lots of heartache as the Laws of Physics will not bend just for you and your arrogance will not go unpunished (see paragraph two).

Do this: Solo each one of those sounds in your mix and take a High-Pass Filter to each one. If you absolutely haven’t got a High Pass Filter then use a normal Low Shelving EQ but that should not be your first choice here as we want it gone; final countdown; am I ever gonna see your bass again? (every Aussie knows this one), no way, get f#$&d, f$%k off. Gone (west).

Raise that High Pass on each sound til it just starts to sound a tiny bit thin then pop that sound back and grab the next. Styx in your steel claw doesn’t it? And you’re thinkin’ I been drinkin’. Yep. Kid wanna rock? Yep. Then boot camp has to happen don’t it. Onward…*

Once you have lopped the toes off every sound in the mix then pop em all back together and see how it sounds. I bet you your piece suddenly sounds clearer. Your Mum doesn’t look so pained and your Da; well he still dumps on you but someone has to and it might as well be him that puts the grit in your eye. But your mix sounds clearer. Not as loud but that is a good thing.

There’s only so much beer you can put in a bucket. So if you want to put more in you gotta take some out. Suds make a beer look grand but they actually mean you got less room for beer. Beer without suds is no joy (so I’m told as I don’t drink at all) so watch gonna do? Well you just done it.

Interestingly almost every sound in your mix is likely to be registering something in the lows, yep even a hi-hat can throw off pops and other rumbles in the lows. Everything that sounds in one place is stealing part of the glory of other things in that place. Get rid of pops, rumbles or even things that sound grand when soloed but add nothing useful to the mix and suddenly you have more room for suds & beer.

Let’s Get Louder

(Apart from a bit of pantie in shot) that song was mixed just like any other (and it has a sexy 6). Now a few paragraphs up you noticed that your high-passed-mix was clearer but quieter overall. That is a wonderful thing. You just got sent an angel. You can turn up the overall volume so everything is now louder. Louder rocks this town better. We all know that one.

OMG

WTF

Bass is sucking the bigness from your mix. Less bass lets you have a louder song. OMG & WTF again. Why didn’t I get told that before? Who I gotta be angry with now to get this sorted out? That would be God. What other things Lady Evil been hidin’ from me? Well not much really as that there is the whole black magic in mixing and mastering. There is no other device or setting other than that. Too much anything will eat it (your mix that is).

That really is the whole lesson right there. You have to make a corridor for the ghetto superstar, Dr Righteous, to parade without being rained on (oh what a mixed music-a-phor).

Drum & Bass

But I know that most of you will still try to jam your Kick and Bass into the same part of the bucket. She canna take much more Captain (OK so that is more of a Star Trek reference). It won’t work, your glass of time can’t be expanded as human bandwidth is the limiting factor here so till Homo Facebookus gets replaced with a 256 bit version we have to choose if it is the drum or the bass that is walking that line. Generally the decision is bass gets the place (yeah I know I done that one already) and the drum goes high. But in some mixes the bass is less important so the drum can close the old dome down.

Or you can be tricky, tricky, tricky and let that change over during the song. The average listener will hear the big bass and the big drum and think they are big over the whole song. Suckers! That’s just live evil right there isn’t it.

Jump back to Panama and practice your new career as a real jukebox hero (four in one short sentence, I’m getting good at this).

* I’m not suggesting you always mix exactly in this way as over time you will learn how to EQ and cut with more sartorial eloquence than just ripping the roots off out but as a first-go lesson it will get the point across. If you have a Spectrum display then this is also easier as you can see what belongs and what doesn’t.

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8 thoughts on “Bet you didn’t know BASS is the Enemy in Mixing Music?

    • Hi Eden

      I like the one in Reason 7 (don’t use anything else so no further help there sorry). Before getting that I really didn’t like em and was an ear man but modern mixes that are really pushed do seem to benefit from visual aids.

      Still liking your album.

      🙂

  1. Another great read! I will try this later! A high pass filter on all of the sounds? What if I had just a drum track (707) kick (high pass?) what about the “place with all the bass?”

    I have enjoyed reading your tutorials.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Hi Mark

      I would assume it unlikely that your whole piece/song was a drumline. The idea here is to get you to start to decide what function each sound has in the mix. If all your sounds are trying to play in the same place (esp Bass) then it won’t work out well. There will be no cut to the mix.

      The High-Pass it all strategy is a learning tool at first to force you to make a mix without mixing for bass but for cutting power. Try it on a real mix you have.

      🙂

      • Yes! Well it is working! I was just messing with drum track (kick hats snare) and a simple bass line. One track I think “the bass will lead here” and another looking for kick to be main carrier to the track! Out high pass on all tracks and adjusted appropriately. Evening without a master polish I can here “and see” the results. Your article makes sense. Great learning curve for me. Thanks again.

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