There is a fine line involved when it comes to mixing the low end of your tracks. It’s easy to teeter on the brink of making the mix too muddy, or clip the low peaks. Here is how you get the best of the bottom.
The Fundamentals Of Bass In A Mix
Usually it’s the bass line and the bass drum that can cause problems while mixing in Ableton Live. Both can take up a broad amount of frequencies, and clashing between the two is a very common problem.
With most bass instruments, the low E sits at about 40Hz. While the low end of an kick drum sits in around the 60-80Hz.
By playing two notes in the lower register of an instrument (say a D1 and an F1), you’ll realize it’s not as pleasing when the two are played together in a higher register.
Although electronic instruments can produce sounds as low as 20Hz, most low end heavy electronic music usually hang out above the 40Hz range. Anything below 40Hz is usually rolled off with EQ to add a subtle punch that can be felt rather than heard.
So, where exactly does getting better low end in your mix start?
Fix Up Your Room
If your mixes sound great in your studio, congratulations! If they sound bad everywhere else, stop the celebrating. The problem usually lies in your listening environment.
Monitors Make The Difference
Getting accurate bass response by investing in a decent pair of monitors (regular speakers will colorize the sound, giving you inaccurate response.) Go to your local music store, bring in some of your favorite tracks, and listen to how different monitors handle the low end.
TheMackie HR-824’s can be purchased for under $1,000, and they sound great.
I don’t recommend using a sub woofer. However, if you do, blend the sub so it doesn’t overpower everything else in your mix.
The bottom is, save the extra cash you would spend on a sub, and spend it on a nicer pair of studio monitors.
Treat Your Room Nicely
Next up, treat the corners of your room with some bass traps. Low frequencies tend to cloud up your listening environment since they travel much slower.
Bass traps are made from an absorbent material and they will suck up any of the excess bass that can complicate things when mixing. Learn more about them here.
Analyzing Mixes With Ableton’s Spectrum
Ableton Live’s spectrum is a great tool for getting a visual representation of your mix. Obviously you shouldn’t rely on it solely (that’s what your ears are for), but it really does help put things into perspective.
- Drop Spectrum onto an individual track, or your overall mix.
- Double click the main window to get a larger view of the frequencies being analyzed.
- Play the track (or clip), and pay attention to the numbers on the left side (the decibel or volume of certain frequencies) as well as the numbers on the top (the hertz).
Here are some real world examples of songs I have analyzed with Ableton Live’s spectrum. They’re genres feature prominent low end.
Gangstarr – Mass Appeal
Like in most hip hop songs, the the weight of this track relies heavily on the kick drum.
Peaking out at around 50Hz, with another bump around 85Hz, you can hear the tight punchy kick through the entire mix, without it taking up too much weight.
Mason – Exceeder (Felguk Remix)
Once again, you have the kick taking up a lot of the low end in the track (peaking around 48Hz) with a very prominent bass line taking up the low-mid frequencies with some higher overtones. Note the high level of compression on the overall mix as well.
Skream – Midnight Request Line
Dubstep productions are well known for it’s low sine wave bass lines. In this track you can see it’s the simple 2 note bass line that’s taking up the majority of the low end, while it’s the kick that’s filling in the low-mid frequencies.
Notice how in most of these examples the low end slowly curves off. This is using the same technique mentioned above. Roll off the frequencies below 40Hz to still feel them, but not let them take up too much space in your mix.
Don’t Compromise, Equalize!
Equalization can be dangerous territory when trying to fix your low end. Use these tips to help keep your bass under control. We’ll be using Ableton’s EQ Eight in these examples.
To boost the fundamental frequencies of many bass parts, try these settings with EQ Eight.
- Select Band 1 of EQ Eight
- Boost around 40Hz – 100Hz
- Use a fairly broad Q (0.5 – 1.0)
Cutting The Mid-Lows
If you’d like to separate the bass parts from the rest of your mix try cutting out some frequencies with EQ Eight.
- Select Band 2 of EQ Eight
- Cut between 200-300Hz
- Use a much more narrow Q (3 – 5)
This technique also allows you to add a little more compression later on in the mix.
Boosting The Mid-Highs
Tonally shaping the mid-high range of a bass part can add subtle harmonics to the low end.
- Select Band 3 of EQ Eight
- Boost around 800Hz – 1,200Hz
- Use a broad Q (0.5 – 1.0)
This can harmonically boost the bass without making the mix muddy.
Don’t Give The Wrong Compression
Compression will essentially squash any dynamics and make the source louder. This is a great technique for bass and kick drums, but use in moderation.
This will setup a threshold for when the compression will kick in. Setting a threshold of about -10dB to -20dB is a reasonable area for bass sounds.
This sets the ratio of decibels between the input and output of the signal. As an example every 3dB of input above the threshold level, the output level will only increase by 1dB.
For most bass sounds a ratio between 2 and 4 will do a good job of creating a nice punch for in the mix.
Attack And Release
For faster bass parts try boosting the attack and release knobs, 20ms and 400ms respectively. The release control allows the compressor to recover between each of the notes.
Here is an example of good starting settings:
- Drop Ableton’s Compressor on a bass or Kick track
- Bring the threshold to -20dB
- Change the ratio to 4
- Bring the attack knob up to 20ms
- Bring the release knob up to 400ms
Tweak these settings to taste.
Not Enough Room
We’ve really only been able to touch on a lot of these subjects (they can fill books). As always, take any of these tips with a grain of salt, and have fun coming up with your own settings for taming the bass in your mixes!