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musikman1

In Your Face BASS - What's your strategy?

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Posted (edited)

Hi friends,

I've been using CW for years, and being primarily a keyboardist, I use a lot of synth bass sounds.  Now synth bass is usually already processed with some effects, so I've not had too much trouble getting control over a synth bass track.   However I'd like to pick your brains here if you don't mind sharing, and have a few minutes, when it comes to getting a nice in-your-face bass track, one that sits well with the rest of the mix without overshadowing, without getting lost in the mix,  without sounding too boomy, etc....well, you get the idea.  The typical issues that need addressing with a bass track. 

I seem to sometimes run into trouble more when I use a basic acoustic or electric bass patch, from either a hardware synth, or a virtual module, like Spectrasonic's Trilian, which I most currently use.  Trilian has some great sounds, most all are high quality samples.  Individually they all sound great, it's getting them to sound right in a mix that is sometimes challenging.  I've often auditioned some great bass sounds, found one I like for the project, record the track, then later when all the other instruments have been recorded, I wonder, where did that great bass sound go that I originally auditioned??  Of all the instruments to mix, bass always seems to present the biggest challenge.

Most times if a bass track sounds boomy I try using EQ to roll it off, that usually helps cut the boom.  Sometimes a bass track will sound kinda "flat" and can get lost in the mix.  Compression seems to be the answer here.  These are  typical answers that I've found, which help to some degree, but many times I'm still not getting "that sound" that I'm hearing on all the CDs and radio songs. 

What I'm looking to do is be able to distinguish the bass track clearly, without needing to bring the level up to where it can make a mix sound unbalanced.  I don't want the bass to seem lost in the mix, on the other hand,  I want to know the bass is there, and feel it punch me, without it taking over the whole mix.  When I listen to most songs on a professionally recorded CD, or on the radio, I can hear and feel that bass, but it's not overpowering the rest of the mix, it has its rightful place, and it sits there nicely.  Easier said than done I think! 

Rather than going back and forth and putting band aids on the different problems that come up with bass tracks, I figure if I can get some kind of proven general method to start and end with, that I can use as a sort of "template" for the bass track in every project I create,  then I can at least be in the ball park, then I tweak the details later if needed, based on the type of song.  So if you don't mind briefly sharing your basic "rule of thumb" process from beginning to end that you use to get your bass tracks off to a good start in your mixes, that would be very helpful, and appreciated!   

Thanks much!

MM

Edited by musikman1

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1) Treated room including real broadband bass traps and not those foam blocks masquerading as bass traps they sell at the music store.

2) Complementary EQ.

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^^ this is absolutely the very first place to start.

If you don't have a monitoring environment you can trust, nothing you do will have any kind of meaningful impact. If you can't hear it properly, you're flying blind.

Assuming that this is not the case, then the next thing is carving out the space between the instruments. You'd be absolutely surprised at how NOT bass heavy bass sounds can be, when they're surrounded by other bass-heavy elements. That thick bass you're hearing may actually be a fairly thin bass, but it's surrounded by a super fat 808 kick, fat low poly synth, sub hits, etc. If you put a full bass sound in amongst that, it all builds up into mush.

I think I've given the example in another post on here, but our first full length album back in the late 90s was exactly this. It was metal rather than anything with synth bass, etc. but it's the same principle:

My idea was that everything should sound massive. The guitars needed to be huge - every chug should hit you in the guts. Each guitar track was like that, including all of the solos and overdubs. The bass was THICK, extended low end, lots of brightness too so you could hear the finger attack. Kicks were deep and punchy. The snare sounded like a cannon... you get the idea. In isolation, every element was like an earthquake going off in your face and was massive.... and then I put them all together in a mix and it was utter chaos. So much stuff was hard to hear, and adjusting the levels of each thing made absolutely no difference - when something was loud enough, 2 more things disappeared. Turn those things up, and something else would disappear. Rinse, repeat. We took the best compromise of that mix to mastering and ended up with a very shiny turd to take home.

I since got those master tapes digitised and remixed this album 15 years later and it was night and day compared to the original. Understanding how things mask other elements, and how your brain tricks you into hearing something is fatter than what it is because of what's surrounding it is the key to making this all work at the most basic level. (The album still sounded pretty rough, mind you, but this was "ah dude, it could use a bit of work" rough compared to "woah, careful, don't step in that!" awful.)

So don't be scared to carve stuff out to make space. It'll sound like crap in isolation but you're not listening in isolation. Frequencies build up and either turn to mud or mask other stuff.

But compression is the other side of the story.

Bass energy can fluctuate wildly. If you have a filter sweep on a bass patch it can go between "that sits nicely" to "wow, why can't I hear anything else in this mix now?" very quickly, just over the course of the decay of the note. There's a few ways to deal with this, that I'll get to, but first you need to know where the problem is so you're not just flying blind and putting patches over the top of imaginary holes.

What I would do is this:

Have your mix go to a master bus, call it MASTER, and send that bus to another bus called METERS, and send that to your hardware outs.

Insert a new track and import in a mix that you think sounds great. Set the output of that track to go to the METERS bus. 

On the MASTER bus, put any mastering effects that you normally do (or none, it's often best to leave this well alone and send it off to a pro).

On the METERS bus, put a good spectrum analyser on there, like Voxengo's Span (there's plenty of good ones, even free ones).

Flip between soloing the reference track that you imported that you thought sounded good, and your mix and try your best to match the loudness - you'll likely need to turn the reference down if it's been mastered.

Once you're happy with the matched volume, solo the reference track and look at what the spectrum analyser is showing. Make a note (or if the meter allows, take a snapshot) of the frequency curve, taking special note of the bass frequencies. 

Then mute the reference track and play back your mix. What's different? Are the bass frequencies way out of control on your mix as compared to the reference?

The first impulse here is to strap some EQ or something over your MASTER but don't - address it at the track level first.

Mute the bass synth and any bass heavy instruments and just have the kick drum. What are the bass frequencies doing now? Still out of control? Drop the kick volume or carve out some EQ (likely dropping stuff under about 60hz and dropping the frequencies around 200hz, but don't take those numbers as gospel - every sound will be different.)

Bring in each successive bass instrument after that and see what happens. If it jumps wildly louder, you have a good place to start looking, so maybe mute every other bass heavy instrument and see what this "problem" instrument is doing by itself in the mix. If it's fine by itself, your problem is likely a build up of bass energy with all of the other bass instruments together and you'll want to carve around it with EQ. Don't listen in isolation when you do this, your ears will lie to you. You need to hear how it works in the mix with the other instruments occupying that space.

If you manage to get it mostly working but things are sticking out weird, that's when you want to compress the problem tracks to get them even. Again, in isolation, this will sound flat and boring, but in a mix this can mean the difference between this sound overpowering everything else or it getting buried. Bass frequency management is usually the main difference between a bad amateur mix and a pro sounding mix.

At THAT point, if things are still getting masked, it's time to wheel out dynamic EQ or multiband compressors, or do things like sidechaining. But I would almost guarantee, though, that it won't need to get to this point in the great majority of cases.

... and then you have mastering and how it will affect the balance of everything, which is a whole other can of faecal matter 😕 But start at the mix first. This should give you a bit to think about. :) 

 

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^^ Having said all of that, the difference you're hearing may indeed just be the mastering. Having the entire mix properly balanced with EQ and compressed may give you that sound. But my advice is to get it as close as you can at the mix level first before jumping down that rabbit hole.

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i play electric bass.

when i'm recording it, i typically split two inputs,  and use two pedals for DI line level captures:

Sansamp Bass DI

Strymon Iridium

 

with the sansamp, i'm dialing in a very deep clean bass tone (the basis of the sansamp is the venerable Ampeg svt amplifier)

 

with the Iridium, i'm using a marshall superlead amp paired with a ampeg 4x10 IR, and the marshall is set for an aggressive lead tone, eq'd for midrange and high end bite.

 

then, i mix those two tracks together to a common mono bass sub buss, and blend the lows to the highs based on the song and arrangment.

this gives me pretty in your face bass tracks.

 

if the sansamp has too many low, i just use a HPF and find the sweet spot.

i'll take anywhere from 150hz up to 300 hz out wherever i have buildups.

 

i'll compress and/or limit the bass sub buss to get the levels consistent, if they aren't already.

i can post clips to demonstrate if interested.

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Posted (edited)

What works for me is not eq or compressors or nothing. Just the right bass sound to begin with. First I’m a bass player so I have a few good basses and amps, pre amp etc. i spent my life searching for good bass tone that works in a live band situation. That sound is never quite right for recording. 
I must have spent more time working on trying to get my bass tracks sounding right than anything else. So don’t laugh at this, I finally found the closest I’ve ever had to my goal and it goes like this. 

Grab my bass and plug it directly to the interface! (Really?)

Record the part clean and with a  solid groove and note placement. 

Drag it to AmpleP bass lite track. 
Edit the midi to taste. 
All velocities at 106 ( important) 

Now using the Gain set the output at -8.0 db.  

That’s it. No eq ,no compressor just the raw bass sample . 

The Ample bass on its own sounds sort of growly and awful but it sure works in my songs. 
 
So ultimately the solution is to find the right bass. If you have to process the sounds then it was garbage so keep looking. 
 

I can also get a great audio bass sound as well but it takes way longer to both play and edit audio than it does to use midi. I doubt if the punters can tell the difference. 
 

Here’s my latest song list

https://www.soundclick.com/artist/default.cfm?bandID=1420844

Edited by John Vere

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Posted (edited)

All great info guys, thanks a lot for showing up here with your input, much appreciated. 

3 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

If you don't have a monitoring environment you can trust, nothing you do will have any kind of meaningful impact. If you can't hear it properly, you're flying blind.

Actually, my newest studio setup is in my apartment at a senior living complex.  I used to have a well designed studio with at least some wall dampening and bass traps, but all that is gone now.  Plus here I really can't play my mixes super loud without disturbing others.  I do have wall to wall carpet, and have Auralex monitor pads, plus a few panels of Auralex strategically placed on the walls.  I do need to add a few to the back wall though, in the process of getting that ball rolling.  So the environment isn't perfect but not too bad overall.  I'm just using some KALI 6" monitors, which mix really flat and for the most part true.  At first I thought it was the monitors, and they may slightly factor in, but that said, I can play a mastered CD of my favorite band and I'll hear the punch on the bass pretty well, and then play one of my "unmastered" mixes and it sounds kinda flat in comparison.  That said, my "mastered" mixes do sound a step above the unmastered ones, but still pale in comparison to a pro CD.  

So I kinda ruled out the monitors and/or the room conditions as being soley responsible, though they do factor in.  Apologies for not mentioning my room and monitor setup prior to this, I would imagine it would have helped make things clearer.  I probably should also mention that although I have a friend who occasionally records live electric drum tracks for me, I mostly have to otherwise use loops.  So isolating specific drums is not always an option unfortunately. 

I used to have Mackie 824s, but for where I live now I had to tone it down some, so I went smaller.  There is a difference for sure, smaller speaker factor,  but  I have to say they sound decent and give a pretty accurate reflection of the mix, and it is what I have to work with for now.  I do use some very flat headphones that don't enhance the low end, like many do, but I try not to use them if at all possible when it comes to mixing, unless it's very late at night when others are sleeping. 

You have certainly given me a lot to think about Lord Tim, some of it is a bit over my head, but not so far that I can't figure it out, and I at least have something to sink my teeth into!  Thanks for taking the time to give me the details, much appreciated.

1 hour ago, John Vere said:

What works for me is not eq or compressors or nothing. Just the right bass sound to begin with.

I hear ya loud and clear John.  Being a keyboard player I can't tell you how many times I've been to  a club to hear a local band, and the keyboard player is technically sound, but is using garbage sounds and has no clue how to select the right sound for each song.   So yes, selecting the right bass sound here is paramount in my opinion as well.  That's why I bought Trilian because their samples are very good, and the selection is plentiful.  So I do spend a good amount of time sifting through sounds until I hit on one that fits as best possible. 

Edited by musikman1
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I'd say your mix environment is definitely a factor here with your low end. I have a well-treated and professionally designed studio here with main speakers with 8" woofers and even then with certain things I felt I was missing enough information in the sub bass area to not make a good decision solely by ear. Getting a sub monitor was a real eye (ear?) opener for me, and I can say my masters definitely got better as a result.

But that said, this was the reason I mentioned throwing a spectrum analyser on the METERS bus and comparing the frequency curve to one from a mix you like. If you can't quite trust your ears for whatever reason, this gives you a great visual sanity check so you can at least make an educated guess as to what needs fixing. Even with the environment I have, I still do this just to keep myself in check.

I both agree and disagree with John about the bass sound thing (sorry John!). I do absolutely agree that you should try as much as you can to get the sound right at the source. The more you can do at this point, the far less screwing around you need to do later. There's a reason people hire great recording instruments, or choose sounds they otherwise wouldn't play normally just because they'll know it'll just work in context. I'd also strongly encourage finding a patch that sits well in a mix of you can.

However, where I disagree is that sometimes the sound of something is perfect for your vision of the song too, but that sound isn't working in context. Do you compromise your end goal because it doesn't work right off or do you try to work out why isn't not working and apply your knowledge of mixing skills to get it to work? We have an incredible toolkit to do nearly anything we want with CbB, so we may as well take advantage of those amazing tools.

If your bass patch sounds killer but isn't fitting into a mix, maybe it just needs some EQ tweaks. Maybe it's an evolving patch that accents certain frequencies when it hits a certain point in the note that's making it overwhelm the mix when it gets there. Perhaps compression or a dynamic EQ might be best to fix that.

I really think the end justifies the means. If you get your desired end result and it gives you the emotional payoff you and your listeners enjoy, absolutely zero people will care how you got there. If you can get it right without doing a bunch of extra processing then that's fantastic - certainly aim for that first! But if not, you have the tools to make it work. :)

 

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Sometimes I play my bass, sometimes use a bass vst. In both instances I like the free vst bass professor it has l and ll versions. I use izotope low end balance and look for masking frequencies with izotope too. I do try to find the right sound for the song or get close to what works which can change as the song fills out. 

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3 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

But that said, this was the reason I mentioned throwing a spectrum analyser on the METERS bus and comparing the frequency curve to one from a mix you like.

I actually have a metering suite by IK MM, and tbh sad to say I'm not well trained in how to use it since I seldom have used it.  I'd have to watch a video or dig into the manual to get familiar with it again.  No sense trying to use it if I'm not going to understand what it is I'm looking at. Like I had mentioned in another thread, I'm a musician first, sound engineer second, so I still have learning curves now and then when it comes to the technical stuff. But anyway, here's what I have, and I believe this is the only one I have, but from what I understand it's decent quality....  If you have any brief tips on using the analyzer, that would be kool.

https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/tr5metering/

3 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

Do you compromise your end goal because it doesn't work right off or do you try to work out why isn't not working and apply your knowledge of mixing skills to get it to work?

I almost always try to figure out why it's not working and I experiment with different plugins to see what kind of results I can get.  I have had some success with my mixes in that regard, and I don't always run into major trouble with bass tracks.  That said, however, if there is an area of improvement that pops up more often than not, it's with balancing and mixing the bass with everything else. So although I'm not totally out in left field with this, I do need and want to improve that part of my mixes.  I'd like to de-mystify it and get a better handle on how to get it sounding more like what I hear on pro CDs.  Sometimes I think the bass track is sounding a little lost or a little off, then I'll add a limiter to the master track, or I'll export the mix and run it through one of my mastering software and that will take care of it straight away and it will sound great. Other times that might not work, so it's been something that I just want to be better at and feel more confident in knowing what to do, rather than just experimenting blindly with different plugins, hoping one will work. 

45 minutes ago, treesha said:

I use izotope low end balance and look for masking frequencies with izotope too. I do try to find the right sound for the song or get close to what works which can change as the song fills out. 

Hey treesha, thanks for jumping in, always good to hear from a bassist. I don't have the Izotope plug, but I did check it out. I too usually spend time looking for what will work in that specific project.  Sometimes I like to record the bass track early on, so I may not find out til later when the mix is more full how it's gonna work out.  

I actually have a TON of plugins, it's just a matter of selecting the one that will be most likely to help in whatever project situation arises.  I have the Waves Gold bundle, which is a well rounded mix of plugs. I have IK MM T-Racks with a bunch of extra modules that I've added over the years, Stealth Limiter,  432 Master EQ (which I use often), compressors, reverbs, there's a bunch. I also have Lurssen Mastering Suite, which is kind of a quick one step mastering software, and for quite a few projects it has worked out pretty well.  So I'm not lacking plugins, that's for sure.

3 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

I really think the end justifies the means. If you get your desired end result and it gives you the emotional payoff you and your listeners enjoy, absolutely zero people will care how you got there. If you can get it right without doing a bunch of extra processing then that's fantastic - certainly aim for that first! But if not, you have the tools to make it work

Agreed! I have pretty good ears from being a musician for 45 yrs, I play keys primarily, and my secondary is guitar, which I began about 8 yrs ago.  I have always made music a priority in my life, even when I couldn't do it full time. Now that I'm semi-retired, I have the time and I want to make the best of it.  I can rely on my ears to get a decent finished product, sometimes a very good one, but you know how it is, when I compare it to songs on a CD or the radio, it seems to fall just short enough to make me think....."what the hell am I missing?...I'm so close!!"   ....and that is why I started this thread!  :-)

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https://www.sonarworks.com/soundid-reference/resources/ebooks/ebook-mix-your-low-end-like-a-pro

I just got an email with this link to a free ebook, no idea if it is worth checking out but I will have a look sometime, so fyi.

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Probably the best thing I do for that is listen to reference songs in whatever genre I'm working in, songs that I think are well mixed and mastered. And I listen to them on my monitoring system. When asking for advice on "how do I get this sound?" it makes it much easier to give advice if you give us an example of exactly which "CDs and radio songs" you think do a good job of presenting an "in your face" bass sound. Different genres call for different methods.

Go to YouTube and search for "how to mix bass" or even "how to get an in your face bass sound" and you'll find plenty of information.

A mistake that I think a lot of people make is in assuming that "bass"=low end. I grew up listening to Paul McCartney's bass coming through on the 2" speaker of a plastic AM transistor radio. Our ears "fill in" the rest when we're listening via imperfect reproduction systems. Listen closely to those well-produced songs and you'll likely find that the "bass" sound that pops out is much higher in frequency than we might expect, and that the extreme lows are rolled off with high passing. As a listening exercise, try throwing a steep highpass on your bass track and slowly bringing it higher and higher until it doesn't sound like "bass" any more. When I do this, it's always higher than I expect.

The way it "looks" in my mind is that there's the "upper" component of the bass sound, where the pluck, snarl, whatever, is, depending on whether I'm using a bass guitar (or sample of one) or a bass synth sound. Then down from there comes the space that I cut out for the kick drum, often involving sidechaining with Trackspacer or just a compressor. Then down from there in a space all its own is the pant-flappy boom, the amount of which can vary depending on what genre and what I'm trying to achieve. Club sound systems can reproduce it, earbuds less so.

To make any fast attack rhythmic sound stand out better, I use compression, usually with about 5-10 mS attack to let enough of the attack portion through, and 100mS or shorter release. This isn't to smooth it out, it's to give it a bounce that resembles how our ears naturally react to instant sounds. I didn't twig at first that compression can be used not only for the gluing and smoothing functions (that were the first parts of its job that I understood), but also to shape the dynamics and rhythm of sounds.

As a side effect of putting this kind of "bouncy" compression on other sounds in the mix, I find that it helps them stay out of each others' way. I started a thread on this forum about noticing an example of that. I was twiddling a compressor and thought it was the one on the bass track because it was affecting the bass track in a big way. Then I noticed that it was on a different track. What I was doing was just getting that track out of the way of the bass track, leaving space for it to come through.

If I can't hear my bass distinctly, what's covering it up? Look for things that might be covering it up and maybe work on them a bit. It might have less to do with the bass sound and more to do with the other things we try to cram in.

In trying to understand it better, I thought of it like looking at an image. If all of the elements in the image are tinted medium orange, it's harder to pick out individual elements. This is how I think of the usual advice to carve each element its own space in the frequency spectrum. However, if we take a full-range image and then make a spot on it that's completely bright white, even though that bright white spot isn't strictly "in the way" of the darker elements in the image, it still draws the eye's attention away, and maybe even make the iris close somewhat. This is akin to having a poky loud sound in the upper mids: nothing to do with "bass" as far as frequency, but its volume makes the ear recoil and pay less attention to what's happening lower down. In this way, sounds can mask other sounds that aren't even within the same spectrum. Not something to be afraid of, rather something to notice.

As for listening environment, I don't know if there's such a thing as a perfect listening environment. I figure if I can play my Radiohead reference CD on my monitors and it sounds killer, then there's no reason that with mixing and mastering chops, I can't theoretically produce something with at least a similar sonic balance. I haven't deployed any bass traps as such, but I have 4 different sets of monitors connected to my workstation, plus good listening systems in my bedroom and living room, plus headphones and automobile. I work on it until the song sounds good on all of those systems. Hey, why not? After all my stuff is listened to more by me than by anyone else. 😁

P.S. I've heard nothing but good about Kalis. It's on my to-do list to go down to GC and audition some.

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Here is a simple tips!

1: Make sure your bass is mono.  


2:  Amp sim or preamp sim or speaker cab or combination


3: If there's mud in your mix clean it up with boosting and carving out space. Lets say you boost bass at 70Hz you would cut other instruments at 70Hz that might be bleeding over and merging with the bass, the kick can also effect it depending playing on or off the kick. Therefore;


4: Side chain your kick can give your bass space or even side chain your bass if its a kinda hook bassline.

 

5: Depending how you want bass to sit in a mix you can add a tad of reverb to sit it at the back or bring further forward or give it width, if you want to glue it in a tad of saturation and compression. A tip for width or bass in general, n duplicate the bass track stick them on a bass room bus and use panning on the two tracks to sit them where you want in the mix and then go about adding your compression or filters or amp sims to the bus which you can further tweak the eq on tracks and bus. Drum and bass style music or even hiphop, its good to create a drum room bus and a bass room bus which you still can sidechain. 

NB: there is some fancy filters now which trigger compression on frequencies you want or don't want. Bass  and kick frequently occur simultaneously which is usually where the problems are or otherwise some phase or blead from other instruments or even vocals.

Hope at least one thing helps

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, musikman1 said:

I actually have a metering suite by IK MM, and tbh sad to say I'm not well trained in how to use it since I seldom have used it.  I'd have to watch a video or dig into the manual to get familiar with it again.  No sense trying to use it if I'm not going to understand what it is I'm looking at. Like I had mentioned in another thread, I'm a musician first, sound engineer second, so I still have learning curves now and then when it comes to the technical stuff. But anyway, here's what I have, and I believe this is the only one I have, but from what I understand it's decent quality....  If you have any brief tips on using the analyzer, that would be kool.

OK, when you play back your mix and the reference mix, have a look at this part of your real time analyser in the plugin:

2138718335_Screenshot2022-05-22003158.jpg.a24fc8b4b6ff32e3acc28e9b2bc35cc5.jpg

 

The green area is the subsonics. For 90% of your instruments, you'll want to roll off the low end of your EQ to much higher than this so this part entirely goes away - you'll be surprised at how far up you can high-pass this stuff without it affecting the sound of a track. A lot of synth patches have rumble in there that you're not really hearing at all, but it feels nice when it's cranked on loud speakers when it's in isolation. But in a mix, this is just chewing up energy and making everything feel cloudy for no good reason. Kicks sound great here, some sub drops and basses too, but nothing else.

The red area is your main bass area. This is likely where things are clashing the most for you. See what a commercial mix is doing here - if your mix is really peaking much louder in this area than a commercial mix, you need to find out what track is either too loud, or needs EQ work to tame the frequencies a little (or if you like how it sounds as-is, then start fiddling with sidechaining or dynamic EQ/multiband compression). If you're not playing stuff loud or your speakers don't have a good extended low-end, you just can't hear this stuff properly. It's there, but it's hard to tell how much it's there. This is where you'll want to try doing the instrument muting like I mentioned earlier, to see which track is the problem one.

The blue area is your mud. If there's too much build up here, your mix will sound woofy and bad, even on 6" speakers. EQ will definitely help this area a lot. (Be careful, take too much away and the mix loses power and can sound a bit hollow)

Be careful if you have things strapped over your MASTER though. It's a good idea to bypass any master effects while you sort this stuff out because while you may be adjusting something at the track level, those effects may actually be moving the goalposts on you (eg: you have a multiband compressor on the master that's changing the balance of the sounds hitting it, so any EQ you're doing is getting modified so you can't really tell what the changes you're making at the track level are doing)

Both @John Vere and @batsbrew also gave great ideas when it came to making a bass sound be more aggressive, albeit with entirely different techniques to get to the same goal. Sometimes it's good to have your original sound and then duplicate it, then mix that duplicated track through some kind of mid-range heavy distortion, then blend it in with the original sound. You still have all of the warmth and character of the original sound you like, but you also get a great consistent and aggressive tone from the distortion too, and you kind of don't even notice the bass has distortion on it, only that it sounds more up-front, and more consistent.

So after you get your frequencies worked out, that's a great tip for pushing the idea even more. :)

That all said, if you've done all of that and you're still not getting the results you need, that's when you need to get stuck into more of the advanced techniques that was just mentioned above. If you're really determined to have a lot of stuff going on in the bass area (which does sound great) then it takes a bit of trickery to get it all to work together when it's all competing for the same frequency space.

 

Edited by Lord Tim
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Lots of good info in Tim’s post. I definitely use analytics to “look “ at my mixes. Span is a huge asset for this. And they also make a free multi band correlation meter which shows me when I’ve got phasing issues. 
I’ll also open the Pro channel EQ fly out which also has a great spectrum meter. 

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4 hours ago, John Vere said:

I definitely use analytics to “look “ at my mixes. Span is a huge asset for this.

SPAN is great, and much loved. My favorite tool for this is MAnalyzer, which has presets that allow you to compare the tonal balance of your mix with typical curves from different genres. It's great for knowing whether I'm in the ballpark.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/21/2022 at 10:51 AM, Lord Tim said:

The green area is the subsonics. For 90% of your instruments, you'll want to roll off the low end of your EQ to much higher than this so this part entirely goes away - you'll be surprised at how far up you can high-pass this stuff without it affecting the sound of a track.

Thanks so much everyone for the helpful info. An analyzer is something I'll have to spend some time getting familiar with going forward, and hopefully I'll be able to incorporate it as a regular part of my process. I do use a mastering EQ to roll off the sub freq. I usually use the preset "cut boom" as a starting point, which does eliminate that part of the frequency range completely. I usually put it on the master track at the end. Once I started doing that awhile back, I noticed a big improvement in the clarity of the low end. There have been occasions where I've used it on an individual track, like acoustic guitar, but mostly I've used it on the master track.

On 5/21/2022 at 10:51 AM, Lord Tim said:

If you're not playing stuff loud or your speakers don't have a good extended low-end, you just can't hear this stuff properly. It's there, but it's hard to tell how much it's there. This is where you'll want to try doing the instrument muting like I mentioned earlier, to see which track is the problem one.

So this is where the question sometimes arises in my mind as I'm checking the mix, ....If I notice the low end is a little muddy on a few keyboard tracks, and the bass track, should I use an EQ plugin on all those individual tracks, or just use the Master EQ on the master track to cut the frequencies out. Sometimes just one EQ plugin on the Master track with the low end rolled off seems to take care of all of it.  I'm just thinking if I use an EQ on a keyboard or bass track to eliminate sub freq, then another EQ on the master track, do I really need it on both?..or all?  Also , I do get what you said about being careful not to back it down too much or it will sound thin, and I've noticed that a few times.  I just don't want to be using a bunch of EQ plugins on individual tracks if I really don't need to.  I try to stick with plugs mostly on the Sub mixes and Master track.  The bass track usually seems to call for some EQ and/or Compression.  I suppose once I get used to using the analyzer I'll be able to better narrow down where the plugs are needed.

 

On 5/21/2022 at 10:51 AM, Lord Tim said:

Be careful if you have things strapped over your MASTER though. It's a good idea to bypass any master effects while you sort this stuff out because while you may be adjusting something at the track level, those effects may actually be moving the goalposts on you (eg: you have a multiband compressor on the master that's changing the balance of the sounds hitting it, so any EQ you're doing is getting modified so you can't really tell what the changes you're making at the track level are doing)

I hear ya, I usually wait until I've mixed everything before using any FX on the Master channel.  If I have any FX in the master while I'm checking the individual tracks, I usually do bypass them. I'll listen to an individual track, then listen to that same track in the context of the full mix with no FX on the master. 

In the current track I'm working on, the bass track is getting a little lost in the full mix, and so just to experiment, I added a limiter to the Master track, and it definitely seemed to bring the bass track more into focus. Same holds true if I export and use a mastering software, which has the EQ compression, and limiter built in.  I know I can't rely on this, but it at least it has been a quick way for me to compare check what the mix will sound like when enhanced with those tools.  But like you said, if I can't trust my mixing environment, or monitors, etc....then the only way to know for sure is to use the analyzer to see what's really going on.  

On 5/21/2022 at 10:51 AM, Lord Tim said:

Both @John Vere and @batsbrew also gave great ideas when it came to making a bass sound be more aggressive, albeit with entirely different techniques to get to the same goal. Sometimes it's good to have your original sound and then duplicate it, then mix that duplicated track through some kind of mid-range heavy distortion, then blend it in with the original sound. You still have all of the warmth and character of the original sound you like, but you also get a great consistent and aggressive tone from the distortion too, and you kind of don't even notice the bass has distortion on it, only that it sounds more up-front, and more consistent.

Yeah I thought that was interesting. Certainly something I've never heard of before.  I think of distortion as something reserved for electric guitar mostly, so I never really thought to use it on bass.  Just thinking about it I can't really imagine what it would sound like so I'll have to try it!  When you blend the distorted bass track with the original, do you keep the original bass track gain up and keep the distorted bass low and just leak it in to blend it, or is it a 50/50 on the gain for each?

On 5/21/2022 at 3:11 AM, Starship Krupa said:

A mistake that I think a lot of people make is in assuming that "bass"=low end. I grew up listening to Paul McCartney's bass coming through on the 2" speaker of a plastic AM transistor radio. Our ears "fill in" the rest when we're listening via imperfect reproduction systems. Listen closely to those well-produced songs and you'll likely find that the "bass" sound that pops out is much higher in frequency than we might expect, and that the extreme lows are rolled off with high passing. As a listening exercise, try throwing a steep highpass on your bass track and slowly bringing it higher and higher until it doesn't sound like "bass" any more. When I do this, it's always higher than I expect.

I will try this! I have that "cut boom" preset on my EQ plugin that rolls off the sub, not sure the exact freq but this is something to consider.  Especially since I noticed that even when I use the EQ cut on my master track, when I export and run it through a mastering software, I notice that some of the low-mid boominess is exaggerated again.

 

On 5/20/2022 at 9:44 PM, treesha said:

I just got an email with this link to a free ebook, no idea if it is worth checking out but I will have a look sometime, so fyi.

 I'm sure it will be of some help. Much appreciated.

Edited by musikman1

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, musikman1 said:

Thanks so much everyone for the helpful info. An analyzer is something I'll have to spend some time getting familiar with going forward, and hopefully I'll be able to incorporate it as a regular part of my process. I do use a mastering EQ to roll off the sub freq. I usually use the preset "cut boom" as a starting point, which does eliminate that part of the frequency range completely. I usually put it on the master track at the end. Once I started doing that awhile back, I noticed a big improvement in the clarity of the low end. There have been occasions where I've used it on an individual track, like acoustic guitar, but mostly I've used it on the master track.

So this is where the question sometimes arises in my mind as I'm checking the mix, ....If I notice the low end is a little muddy on a few keyboard tracks, and the bass track, should I use an EQ plugin on all those individual tracks, or just use the Master EQ on the master track to cut the frequencies out. Sometimes just one EQ plugin on the Master track with the low end rolled off seems to take care of all of it.  I'm just thinking if I use an EQ on a keyboard or bass track to eliminate sub freq, then another EQ on the master track, do I really need it on both?..or all?  Also , I do get what you said about being careful not to back it down too much or it will sound thin, and I've noticed that a few times.  I just don't want to be using a bunch of EQ plugins on individual tracks if I really don't need to.  I try to stick with plugs mostly on the Sub mixes and Master track.  The bass track usually seems to call for some EQ and/or Compression.  I suppose once I get used to using the analyzer I'll be able to better narrow down where the plugs are needed.

 

Running stuff on the master *can* work but it's like a hammer approach to fixing problems. If you cut the subs and mud on the master, sure - it can clean things up, but are you getting rid of stuff you actually want to keep by doing that?

As an example, general synths, guitars, vocals, most toms, snares, cymbals, and things like that don't really have anything useful in the bass area at all. That's not to say there isn't stuff there, but cleaning up all of the frequencies out of the track that's generally inaudible in the context of a mix will dramatically help the mix clarity. One track with rogue low end won't be a problem so much, but 10 most definitely will - it's all additive and combines into a lot of low frequency energy.

On the other hand, just cutting the lows at the master will also cut the lows on the kick drums, sub hits and some bass stuff you may want to keep. Sure, it'll absolutely clean the mix up, but you sacrifice that punch you want to get from the instruments that actually live in that area.

Try your best to work on stuff at the track level first. Strap an EQ over every track if you must, but it's kind of like carving a statue: the statue is finished when you carve away everything that's NOT the statue. ;) The same goes for a track with EQ.

By the time you do that, and THAT gets to the master, if you still have a problem, you can do specific fixes to the problem tracks rather than hitting the entire thing with a hammer and hoping for the best. The other thing is too, if you're compressing the master, any untamed low end in tracks will really cause big problems for you at this stage. Bass frequencies have a lot more energy than higher frequencies and will cause your compressor/limiter to pump much more, even if you can't actually hear the frequencies - they're still there. Get them right at the source.

I do a lot of mastering work for clients and I can say that "unbaking the cake" when it comes to fixing problem frequencies is 100x harder than if I had access to the tracks themselves to make changes. I'll even request changes to a mix if it's something that I know will cause problems getting a great master in some cases.

But in answer to the "both?" question, try to get it sounding good at the track level first, but there's also nothing wrong with using bus effects for a bit of sweetening. Once you have everything slotted in and working well together and you think "you know, this sounds a little dull", putting an EQ on the master and bumping up the highs is absolutely fine. But leave that for tweaks at the end rather than a first-call. 

2 hours ago, musikman1 said:

Yeah I thought that was interesting. Certainly something I've never heard of before.  I think of distortion as something reserved for electric guitar mostly, so I never really thought to use it on bass.  Just thinking about it I can't really imagine what it would sound like so I'll have to try it!  When you blend the distorted bass track with the original, do you keep the original bass track gain up and keep the distorted bass low and just leak it in to blend it, or is it a 50/50 on the gain for each?

Every sound is different, so it's hard to say. Some may benefit from a little hair on it, others sound amazing slammed with more distortion.

The popular way of doing bass guitar for a lot of rock and metal is taking a DI of the bass and rolling off everything from the lower mids upwards, so you're just getting a big round and fat low end. Then taking a clone of the original bass track and rolling off all of the bass frequencies and running that into an amp to get growl. Then mixing both of those together to taste, then compressing that at the end to even it all out. If you DI all of the bass it can sound a little dull and boring. If you run all of the bass into a cranked amp, it can turn to mud as the low end distorts, so this is kind of taking the best parts of both sounds and putting them together.

Scroll to about 2:37 on THIS clip of my band and check out the bass sound. This is using this exact technique and to me that doesn't sound distorted at all, but it's actually got HEAPS of distortion and compression on it. Obviously a synth bass sound will be different, but you can use the same technique to add hair to that too. (Stick around for some classic "I have stomach cramps" guitar faces in the clip. HAHA!)  Actually, that song is probably a good example for what I was saying about track EQ rather than master EQ. When you have music that's going as fast as this, every bit of clarity counts. But what makes it even more tricky is there's sub hits in places, the kicks have extended low end (and are going a million miles an hour) and the bass is quite fat as well. Just putting EQ on the master would take all of the impact out of the kicks and sub hits, and not taming them at all would be utter chaos. (If that song is a bit too in-your-face to get a good idea, check out THIS one from about 2:10 - it's exactly the same bass sound but used in a more mellow song)

Edited by Lord Tim
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Posted (edited)

I'm not sure if I uploaded these photos correctly or not. But anyway, just for a quick experiment and to allow you to actually see what my mix and bass track looks like....I installed SPAN and checked the bass track by itself, and then the entire mix (no limiter), then put SPAN on a commercial CD track that I think has a similar sound to it. I literally just installed SPAN and did this 5 min later, so I don't know if there are any settings I'm supposed to be dialing in beforehand or not, I just used the "Smooth" feature at 1/4 for the test on the full mix.  I opened the settings so you could see them anyway.

1ST PIC IS THE BASS EQ, 2ND ONE IS THE BASS SPAN SNAPSHOT, 3RD ONE IS MY MIX, 4TH ONE IS THE COMMERCIAL CD SONG

I have an EQ on the bass track which is still a live VST MIDI track, I haven't converted to audio yet.  The Bass track EQ is just to roll off the sub freq, but maybe I didn't go down far enough cuz I still see some sub freq creeping in at a low level. 

To me, the commercial CD SPAN image looks somwhat close to my own song mix.   I was expecting to see a lot of difference.  I do see some differences, although I'm not sure what exactly needs adjusting yet, or how to go about it. I'll figure it out though.  Any obvious differences stand out to you in those SPAN snapshots of my mix, as compared to the commercial CD snapshot? What do you guys see?

As for your previous post Lord Tim, thank you for clarifying, and luckily I upgraded my PC so I may be able to add in a few more EQ plugs without choking my computer.  I do usually add plugs on the sub mixes only, as long as the individual tracks sound ok, so I do check the individual tracks first.  But I figure if the individual tracks sound ok then I can just use one instance of any plugs I want to use on the sub for that instrument. 

Drums are a little tricky because most times I'm stuck with using loops, so many times I can't really separate the individual drums, except maybe for the cymbals that I add in on a separate track from the loops.  So if I EQ the drum track to go after the kick drum, anything I do will affect the rest of the drums in the loop unfortunately.

I did watch a few YT videos about all the stuff you guys have been teaching me, and I've definitely learned some valuable lessons already. 

Bass Track EQ settings.jpg

Bass Track SPAN wEQ.jpg

Full Mix SPAN Pic.jpg

Commercial CD Music SPAN.jpg

Edited by musikman1

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Btw Lord Tim, I just checked out those tracks, awesome!  I saw the stomach cramps faces hahahaha! Seriously, that bass & drums sound is what I'm striving for.  I don't write metal, I like it sometimes, but my stuff isn't that heavy.  But that is the punch I'm talking about, and in addition, it's CLEAN.  If I can get my low end sounding clean like that, and with punch, that would be great.  Once I can learn it, I can apply it to every project going forward.  I watched a video about something you mentioned as far as rolling off unnecessary frequencies on other instruments using EQ in the individual tracks.  I'm starting to notice in these videos where the EQ is used to carve out unwanted or unnecessary freq, even in the high end.  I'll have to check each instrument to see what the SPAN tells me, but how do you know what frequencies to cut? I get that cutting extreme highs and extreme lows, but what else in between can be cut, say for example on a keyboard track?  I have a Keith Emerson "Lucky Man" synth sound playing a line one of my projects, and I have a chug electric guitar sound that is kinda bassey, so I will look at those two.  So what do you usually look for as far as seeing a freq range that can be eliminated without ruining the sound?  Just curious..

I would think that some tracks don't interfere at all and don't need any freq's gutted. So how to tell which instruments need gutting?

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