An important part of any mix is the Low End. Getting that sounding solid, having a punch to it, and bring out a lush bassline is the key to an epic track. Mixing all the Bass Elements is also one of the hardest things to do. The first key in understanding the low end of your track is to understand there is more than one layer to your bass.
There are multiple layers and frequencies that make up a good bass. The way they flow together and interact with your other elements is what will make the bass truly punch through, or be a murky mess. A bass can have a click on it, a warm mid range, a synthy top end, or more. In this article I will go over the different parts that make a up the domain of the low end and share some insight on how to wield it in your music.
Here is a chart to show off the 4 Layers of Bass:
SUB BASS 30HZ – 100HZ
The sub bass is that deep dark rumbles that shakes your groin. It can sometimes be almost unperceivable, except that it’s vibrating your windows. The Sub Bass is very important to how your music feels in the club, or in the car. Here are some tips when looking at the realm of the Sub Bass.
1. EQ out the sub-sub-frequencies
Most people cannot hear past 30. Most speakers can’t even play that low. High end funktion one’s can, but it begins to just distort and rumble past 30hz. It is important to roll off the EQ at around 30hz. It depends on the main fundamental of your sound.
If I have a bass where the lowest note goes to 50hz I should add an EQ8 and roll off from there. If I have a really low end bass that is around 35 HZ I can high pass the sound around 30-35hz.
2. Decay, Sustain, and Release
Another important thing to do is watch your Decay, Sustain, and Release. Release is how quickly the sound stops after you are done playing the note. If you have a slow release, then the sound might never die away in time for the next note to come on./ You can sometimes get these strange overlaps, especially if the track is not in mono. Watch the Release to make sure there is room between the notes. Sometimes you want a strong attack on your bass, then a lower sustain. This is where your Decay and Sustain can come in. Checking these 3 parameters is crucial to get your Sub Bass sounding good.
MID BASS 100HZ – 500HZ
The midbass is where the warmth and presence of you bass comes from, but it can also be where the mud and distortion lie as well. Making sure your midbass rings true, and isn’t murky is one of the most important parts of creating a rich bass. Here are some tips and techniques to keep in mind.
1. Leave room for the Mid Range
Making a bass sound good can sometimes be more about the other elements than the actual bass itself. If you have 20 elements, all with a little bass in them, these begin to stake on themselves. Before you know if you might have a lot of mud. Then when you turn on the bass it just doesn’t come out clear or load. One of the ways to clear this up is eqing the other elements in your track.
This image was from my article on Preparing the Mixdown. It shows how I can eq the other elements to let the kick or bass come through. It’s best to leave use the EQ as a corrective tool than an effect. Removing problem frequencies is generally more effective than boosting other frequencies.
2. A touch of Saturation
Another way to add interest and warmth to your midrange is with Saturation. A saturator can add nice harmonics to your sound. This can be by emulating tape, tube, or any other type of saturation. Don’t overdue saturation, but just a touch can go a long way to bring out the midrange of a bass instrument.
HIGH BASS 500HZ – 2000HZ
The Sub Bass gives you the rumble, the mid bass gives you the warmth, but the High Bass can give you the character. When you are looking at a bass what is there, and not there, gives it the unique flavor. The High Bass, or top end, can give you that thick, crunchy sound with a saw wave. Or it can have a distorted vocal sound. Looking at the High Bass and using it properly gives a whole new layer to add to your bass lines.
1. Lowpass Filter
One important concept to understand about the high end of the bass range is that you don’t always need it. If you are looking for, just a rumbling bass you may not want any high end. Maybe you have a lead that takes that same frequency range. If that is the case, then using a Low Pass filter can limit the high end frequencies.
2. Distortion and Saturation
Just like the Mid Range Bass and Saturation, distortion and saturation can be added to a bass to give character. Both distortion and saturation can exaggerate harmonics in the bass. It can give you that crisp top end to your sound. A great way to do this in Ableton live is with Saturator and Overdrive.
If you find your top end of your bass is taking too much room in your track, you might want to add sidechain compression. Sometimes I will use an advanced form of sidechain compression in live using the Multiband Dynamic.
The Multiband Dynamics lets me sidechain just the high frequencies. I can map this to a kick, or any other element. That way it ducks the sound, or lowers the volume, to let those other elements come out clearly. I have a full article on other ways of using Compression. This Audio Effect Rack can be downloaded for free below.
UPPER HARMONICS 2000HZ AND MORE
After the high bass we are left with the upper harmonics. When you have a square wave base, or anything with a lot of top end, then you might have some frequencies way up in the spectrum. The upper harmonics are similar to the High Bass, except now they are truly high sounds that might not be that important to the overall bass sound.
The thing with 2000 hz and more in your bass is it will begin to be taking the space of where you high hats, drums, leads, and other things will lie. Because of this I will generally eq this space out, or at least lower it by a few dbs. In some cases it will have the “click” sound or some sharp elements for the bass, so this isn’t always the case. When looking at the Upper Harmonics you must ask yourself if you need them in the final mix.
LAYERING THEM ALL TOGETHER
Now that we have all these elements, we can look at the final bass sound as a whole. There are a few techniques to help glue it all together and make sure all layers sound cohesive as a whole.
Sometimes when creating a bass sound you might have different synths and samples that make up the sound. This way you can have a sine wave bass, a midrange synth sample, and second synth for the high end. This works great for making unique and powerful basses. The only problem is you can run into some massive phase cancellation.
Audio waveforms are cyclical; that is, they proceed through regular cycles or repetitions. Phase is defined as how far along its cycle a given waveform is. The measurement of phase is given in degrees, with 360 degrees being one complete cycle… Two identical waveforms, 180 degrees out of phase, will cancel completely. – Sweetwater
An easy way to test this is by moving the sample, or start point of your elements. You can also use the Utility and turn on and off the PHZ-L and PHZ-R button to see how it affects the sound.
2. EQ the parts
Just like the example above with different sounds having phasing, you can also get bleed in the different synths that make up your layers. It’s a good idea to use an EQ8 to cut out unneeded frequencies. So you sine wave sub bass layer should not go past 100hz and you can low pass it. Going through and EQing the parts will make sure they all work together as a whole.
3. Multiband Dynamics
When you are treating and paying attention to each of these elements, it can be really helpful to use something like the Multiband Dynamics to hear the different ranges. That way you can even solo just the Low Bass and tweak the eq. Then you can listen to the mid range and so on. The Multiband Dynamic also lets you compress each band separately. This can be an important tool to make all the elements have a controlled volume. If you are layering your bass with different Synths and elements I highly suggest learning the Multiband Dynamics device.
There you have it. That is an in depth look at the different layers that make up a bass sound. By understanding these different layers that make up your bass sounds you should be able to have more control over the final character and strength of you bass. If you have your own techniques in mixing your bass I would love to hear it in the comments below.
As an Ableton Live Certified Trainer I also do one on one classes online. Read more about my private classes and contact me to get in depth personal training. I can teach you how to level up your sound design, get you producing tracks fast, and master Ableton Live.