Want to add more clarity to your mixes? Do your beats need to have more impact? If your music lacks some of the punch and power of professional mix and masters then it could be time to fix your low frequency spectrum. Continue reading for some pointers on what tools to use to get a rock-solid low end, your listening environment and some Kick drum and sub bass mixing techniques.
The listening environment. We know you have read and heard it countless of times but really it can’t be stated enough, if you are having issues with your low-end you may want to make some adjustments to your room environment. Now we are not even talking professional mix room improvements here but just enough so your bass translates evenly and is a true representation. The closer attention you pay to your room/space and how it sounds particularly the lower frequencies the easier it is going to be to identify any problem areas. Listen out for those extra rumbles, those areas of muddiness. What happens when you take a step away from your desk or even a step outside the room how does it sound?
Now every room is going to be slightly different so there is unfortunately not a one for all solution when it comes to room treatment but there are many house hold items that could assist you in building some DIY bass traps, if that is what your room requires. Most notably records, books and a well positioned sofa can go a long way if your on a budget or you can purchase or create something more professional out of fiber glass, memory foam or any other sound absorbent material. The best way to get your room right is to keep making improvements whilst referencing some highly regarded commercial mixes and using your ears to see if you can hear the difference. It can take some time and trial and error but the effort can be one of the biggest payoffs for you mixes and music in general.
Get your kick and Sub to play nice
Getting our kick drum and sub or bass element to “play nice” in our mix will go a long way to creating that powerful low end we desire from a top quality production. When the kick drum and sub / bass element are in sync with each other they both have enough space in the mix to breathe without taking any of the energy or impact away from one another. There are a few techniques we can use to achieve this desired result.
Listen for frequency masking
Firstly we want to listen for frequency masking. Frequency masking or auditory masking occurs when the perception of one sound is affected by the presence of another sound. This often happens when the sounds in question take up the same space on the frequency spectrum and often between the kick and the bass where usually they will both be competing for the low end of the mix.
We can hear where frequency masking is occurring by soloing our kick and bass and muting one another and listen to see if we can spot a difference to the sound when the other element is introduced. Things to listen out for is a full bodied, loud sound becomes muddied or underwhelmed when introduced with the other. We can also use a frequency analyzer here to confirm visually what we are hearing. Once we have identified any problem areas by listening and analyzing our audio we can create enough space for both elements using an EQ (Equalizer) and or filters to remove some of the unwanted or overlapping frequencies.
In order to clean up our low end we can use a process known as complimentary equalization. This is the process of boosting one set of frequencies and cutting another in order to compliment the overall sound. So with our kick and our bass once we have identified our areas effected by frequency masking as discussed above it can be a good idea to boost some of these areas in the kick and removing these same frequencies in our sub / bass. Dipping the frequencies on the sub allow the kick to punch through allowing each instruments to operate a distinct part of the low end spectrum. Have a look at this screenshot using the complimentary EQ technique with our Oberon Sub Bass VST and a punchy 808 kick drum.
We can use filtering in different ways to continue to help and enhance our bottom end and overall mix quality. In order to gain full control over everything in the lower spectrum it can be a good idea to use a high pass filter to remove any of the lower frequencies we want occupied by our sub / bass and kick drum. Usually 80 Hz and below is a good place to start and it will depend how much bottom you want on each particular sound.
Similarly we can create more room in the top end and remove any unwanted higher frequencies from our sub / bass parts and kick drum. To do this we can use a low pass filter and remove the frequencies accordingly.
Part of having a good low end particular by modern day standards is having our kick and sub at a consistent level. If our levels our inconsistent it can have a detrimental effect on the entire mix, so we want our sub and kicks to be clocking in at similar rate throughout with very few changes in dynamics. Using compression here for this reason can be a good way to gain control over our low end even more and remove any inconsistencies with our bass parts performance.
We can use compression in a different way if we our still having difficulty hearing our kick with clarity. Sometimes the kick might still be getting drowned out by our sub despite our leveling and balancing techniques. If this is the case side chain compression can be used to create some space on the Sub Bass signal to allow more room for the kick drum through. Dipping the volume on the sub / bass like this each time the kick hits means you get to hear the attack of the kick really cut through with greater clarity. We can do this simply by adding a compressor with side chain capabilities on our sub / bass part and routing the kick drum to the compressor. Set the attack low and start with a low threshold and tweak those compressor settings to taste.
Boost the Mids for Presence
We can really add more presence to our low end by bringing out the bass with a small EQ Boost. Somewhere in and around 800Hz-6kHz will help to bring the bass on both the sub and or the kick forward in the mix. This can help with the feeling of presence and will allow our sub / kick elements to be heard on smaller speaker systems such as phones and laptops.
A and B your mix
Just like when we tested our listening environment its a good idea to have a couple of go to reference tracks at your disposal to A and B test against your mix, paying close attention to the low end. You can even use a frequency analyzer to show just where your frequencies are spiking in relation to the reference material you hope to emulate. The A and B test will always give you a true representation of where your mix is at in relation to music that already meets today's standards. If it fulls short you can identify it and fix it using all or a combination of the above techniques available to you.