When mixing down a track one of the most common problems we see is the relationship between the kick and bass and how that relationship reflects in the whole mix. The kick within a track is usually one of the most important elements especially in modern music. The kick drum usually acts as the heart of the track and needs to punch through the mix with enough space to provide the essential punch to the track. Similarly the bass is also an incredibly important aspect of a mix as this as it provides an essential rhythmic element to the music and also provides the low end power to the mix that is essential in all kinds of music. The problem with these two instruments in particular is the range in which they both sit. The low end range of a mix is usually around 20hz - 250hz and most of the low end energy exists below 100hz. This low frequency range holds a lot more power and energy than the higher end of the frequency range but is a lot smaller of a range meaning less room for the kick ands bass to co-exist. Our goal with mixing low end is to provide as much space and clarity between the kick and bass as possible. This can be done using a number of different techniques which we will be going though in this article.
Find the problem:
Generally the problem with kick andf bass is the mudiness that is presented when they are both present. this mudiness is caused by a build up of too much energy in this low end which tends to stem from the sounds existing too much in the same space. In order to make this low end as clear as possible we need to carve out space in both of these instruments. For me this starts with a clear understanding of the character of these 2 instruments.
Lets start with the kick:
As kick drums tend to sound a lot different from each other we need to work out where our kick lies and what purpose it brings to a track. The first thing we need to work out is how low in the frequency range the kick lies. in modern music kicks can either be very low and "thuddy" (popular in electronic music) or slightly higher pitch with more a "snap" to them. no matter which type of kick we use its essential that we find where the power of our kick exists. I usually do this by using an EQ such as the Fab filter pro Q 3, which provides an EQ tool with a incredibly accurate analyser which shows where the sound is sitting in the frequency range. At first glance it is usually quite clear where this power is by simply looking at the analyswer but you can also use a 5db - 10db boost with a bell curve to quickly sweep the low end to find this power.
Now we need to take a quick listen to the bass just to find the main character of the bass. questions we can ask are things like:
- is our bass using a lot of sub frequencies or does it lie a bit higher in the bass range?
- does our bass sound "boxy" or is there too much power in any of the frequencies which is standing out.
we then take a quick look at the relationship between the kick and the bass. This means we need to compare the main ranges that each instrument are relying on. for instance if we have a very low subby kick and our bass is also subby we can tell that the main problem is going to the lower end of each instrument masking each other, meaning our main focus will be carving space in the bass and deciding which needs to be more present in this range. So get to know the character of each instrument as it will make the mixing process so much easier.
A good place to start with EQ is to remove any unnecessary rumble in either the kick or bass. The low end rumble usually exists below the 50hz range so using a low cut filter to find and remove this rumble can be incredibly effective in reducing the excessive energy in this low end. This rumble contains a lot of energy in the low end so by removing it you will instantly fin d your kick and bass sounding more balanced. Please bear in mind tho that this isnt always the case as some tracks may want this rumble in cases such as for electronic dance music. try the sounds with or without this rumble and decide wether you want it or not but most of the time you wont.
The next thing to do with your EQ is to remove any masking frequencies. This means inspecting both your kick and bass to find any places in the low end in which your kick and bass are masking each other. For instance if the main power of my kick lies around 80hz i might look do a slight cut of around 5bd on my bass around 80hz in order to allow my kick to punch through. Alternatively if the main body of my bass lies around 110hz might want to cut my kick around this area leaving the important frequencies of each in tact while making room for both to co-exist.
You can also use a technique of opposites within your eq. This simply means that when EQ'ing either kick or bass, if you were to boost say the kick at 80hz you would then want to cut the bass in the exact same place in order to keep a level low end.
Side chain compression is the next technique that is incredible at creating space between your kick and bass. this is done by applying a side-chain compressor to your bass that is then triggered by your kick drum. what this will do is it will slightly drop the level of your bass exerytime your kick is triggered. by doing this you allow the kick to punch through your bass while also having a strong bass level when the kick isn't present. This allows you keep control of low end frequencies, avoid masking and when done right you wont hear the bass ducking but you will hear the kick punching through.
the settings for you side chain compression are very important so here is a good starting point:
Ratio: 2:1 - 4:1
Threshold: Allow for a 2db - 10db gain reduction
Attack: Usually set below 5ms
release: 20ms - 100ms
Both of these techniques are incredibly powerful for creating that strong low end clarity that you find in professional mixes. With some practice both these techniques will become a strong starting point for the majority of your mixes and we will be back shortly with some more techniques to help your mixes.