The bass guitar can often pose the biggest problem when mixing audio. Along with the drums it provides the bedrock of a song and can make or break a mix. Today I’m going to take a look at a few key elements that can get your bass sounding great.
We’ve all heard them old Beatles tracks with the vocals on one side and the music on the other but they were different times and they were doing the best with what they had. In modern pop, rock or any other style of music 99% of the time the bass is panned dead center and thats what we are going to stick to.
Bass Guitar EQ
In most situations you can probably add a high pass filter at around 35hz to the bass guitar, too much sub-bass can eat up the head room on your track and there usually isn’t very much happening down there anyway.
Bottom: Bass guitars get the majority of their low energy weight in the 80-100 Hz region. Too much boost here could result in a muddy mix. Pay attention to how the bass interacts with other low end elements of the track, for example if both the bass guitar and the kick drum are peaking at 80Hz it may be wise to cut one by a few db in that area to better compliment each other. A warmer bass tone may be found in the 100-300Hz area.
Attack/Character: The 500Hz-1.5k region typically defines the overall sound of the bass, a boost here can provide more attack but overdoing it doing could introduce a boxy sound to the track.
Notes/Snap: A more snappy string sound typical of the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be found in the 2.5-5k region.
An important point that a lot of home studio owners overlook is that the bass guitar isn’t all about low end and you would be surprised by how much top you may have to dial in to get the bass sounding right. Remember, it might not sound too hot when it’s soloed but when it’s mixed into your track it can be just the ticket.
Bass Guitar Compression
In modern rock and pop music, compression is used on the bass guitar to lock in the low end by limiting it’s dynamic range. It’s important that the bass is solid from note to note otherwise some notes will blow your ears off and others will disappear altogether, unfortunately even good players can be a little uneven at times.
Setting the compressor on bass guitar is all about experimentation, particularly with regards to the attack and release settings. Firstly dial in a ratio of about 4:1 and then adjust the threshold till the meter is showing about 7-8Db of gain reduction at the loudest parts. Set the attack time so the initial transient of the bass passes through without getting compressed (around 50ms), then set the release as fast as it will go with out the compressor pumping too much, this will give a punchy sound to the track.
Experiment with the attack and release times, this is where you can really shape your sound, if your after a smoother bass dynamic try setting the attack time faster and the release time slower. You have to judge this on a case by case basis and ask yourself what each song calls for.