Mixing bass guitar will always be an important aspect of producing a song.
If you want to make, your music sound professional and whole, knowing how to mix bass guitar is crucial in the music industry.
Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about mixing a killer bass!
Mixing Bass Guitar: Things to Remember
There are a lot of crucial factors to take into account when we mix bass guitar sounds.
Here are a few of them.
As musicians, we all know that the bass sits at around 60Hz-200Hz in the frequency spectrum, right?
That also means that many other instruments and notes can make the bass sound worse.
Before mixing bass guitar, it’s SUPER important to look at your arrangement first.
You have to look at everything that has the potential to overpower or interfere with your bass notes.
Look at all the other instruments and notes of your song or track. Ask yourself, “Are there any notes that I can change to create a more powerful low end?”
If the answer to your question is yes, we’ve got some work to do.
Our goal is to make sure that the bass has its own room because other notes can easily cover it up.
To check if you can make ample room for your bass, be guided by these questions:
- Are there any parts that I can cut?
- Can this part be taken up an octave?
- Are these guitar parts messing with my bass?
- Is there any synth around the bass pocket?
Noticing these things is the first step in successfully mixing bass guitar.
Of course, there are exceptions, like the kick drum. We’ll talk about it in the subsequent headings.
This part is where a significant amount of your sound is made, so let’s take it step-by-step to ensure that we are not skipping any important parts.
Step 1: Be Intentional With Your Tone
This is the FOUNDATION of mixing bass guitar. And we must start the mixing process right.
For starters, you can ask, “What bass tone would best complement the other notes and instruments present in my track?”
We know the first thing that came to your mind is getting your equalizer and getting it done.
Let us tell you a secret.
You can also create the tone you’re looking for using an amp or amp sims.
If you want a bass that resounds and goes “boom boom boom,” we recommend cutting the highs and cranking up the lows.
- If you want something with the opposite effect, crank up the highs and cut the lows.
- If you want something in the in-between – something that is bright but not too much – you can give your mids a boost and cut your lows.
Step 2: Don’t Forget Your Amp Sims and Recording Direct
Using amp sims is a whole new world because it’s completely different from how one would use a bass amplifier.
BUT, let us tell you this: it’s possible to make your DI bass guitar sound greater than one recorded with an amplifier.
Before anything else, we recommend that you get a DI box first.
- You can also use an audio interface if you don’t have one. Just be sure that your audio interface has a direct-in option.
- The role of the DI box or the audio interface is to help the signal from your bass guitar to pass through, resulting in a cleaner and more accurate sound.
- The DI signal travels from the instrument to the box, while the amp signal goes through the loudspeaker, microphone, preamp and some additional outboard gear.
That’s why we recommend a DI box over an audio interface. After that, you may already begin taking the next steps. We have laid them out for you below:
- Use amp simulation software.
- Ensure a good gain staging. Gain staging is important because it keeps the noise to a minimum.
- One of its roles is to ensure a good relationship between our instruments.
- The tone of your amp sim will be affected by the volume of your bass notes.
- Put a low-pass filter. High frequencies in your DI bass can affect your DI recordings negatively, resulting in a REALLY synthetic and processed sound.
- Our advice is you set your filter at around 10kHz. This will cut out any unnecessary high frequency.
- Set the tone of your bass guitar. Lastly, you can pick the appropriate amp cabinet to perfectly fit the song you’re working on.
- You may also adjust the knobs to your liking until you find the tone you’re looking for.
- Remember, start with the end in mind. Using trial and error can take up your time if you just keep turning random knobs.
Have you ever heard a song that’s a little too rough? With all the instruments fighting to be heard, and it turns out kind of chaotic?
That’s what happens without balancing your bass guitar in the whole mix!
- The tendency of your bass guitar is to get LOST in the multitude of instruments present in your track.
- Not to mention that we don’t even hear the bass properly at other times as it already got overshadowed.
We avoid this by properly balancing our instruments. Does it sound too loud? Don’t be afraid to turn it down.
Remember, we need to ensure consistency throughout the whole song. Utilize automation.
We don’t want our bass guitar to sound too loud in the chorus just for it to completely disappear in verse.
Automation helps us keep our track “alive” and moving, rather than inconsistent.
Gain automation turns up the gain in certain sections of the song rather than the WHOLE volume.
You can think of it as adjusting small parts of the whole, and the goal of this process is to make the overall sound more EVEN.
It makes sure the song has the right volume at ALL times, not just in the chorus.
If you find it confusing to distinguish between the two, the gain is the level going into your effects, while volume is the level coming out.
And we’ve reached the equalizer! In this part, we will compare and contrast with reference tracks.
These tracks are songs from other artists which you can use to improve and benchmark your compositions. You may think of it as a guide or a model for making your own track better.
What we’ll do in this part is choose a song that is similar to the track you are working on, then compare and contrast the two tracks.
While we’re at it, it is important to ask ourselves some guide questions so we can further improve our work.
- What can I learn from this song in terms of its composition?
- Is there anything I can improve in my song?
- Are my vocals too dull? Too overpowering?
- Are some instruments unharmonious with each other?
A low-end frequency instrument such as the bass guitar needs a well-balanced mix, so make sure you don’t overlook this part.
Is There a Specific Technique for This?
Well, not really. But there is some great advice so you can maximize this part.
A good starting point would be ensuring that the reference tracks are played in the SAME volume as your current mix.
The volume of both tracks can be measured using a volume unit (VU) meter.
A VU meter is much more accurate than the human ear, which will result in a better comparison and contrast of the tracks.
Another piece of advice would be to check if the reference track is processed or contains any effects. You may create a stereo aux track and send all your tracks there.
Alternatively, you may also use plugins in the stereo aux track then send your faux stereo out to the actual stereo output.
Finally, once both your track and the reference are of the same volume level, you may now place an equalizer and put a low pass filter at 200Hz.
Tweak the low end until it sounds the same!
Tame the Bass’ Dynamic Range
We have mentioned in the previous sections that one of the most important things about having a low-end is its consistency.
Of course, we don’t want our bass guitar to sound random and chaotic; that’s why we have to tame its dynamic range.
The key to doing this is a compressor.
- A compressor’s job is to make your sound more polished. Experiment with using a slow-release time to catch the sustained notes of your bass.
- Our goal here is to align the bass’ release time to the tempo of your track. The result will be a fat bass tone and compliments your overall track.
Check your gain reduction if you want to make sure that the release time is aligned to the tempo.
If the gain reduction meter does not reach zero, you will know it’s aligned until the next note arrives.
Confused about where to start? Try starting with a release time of 150ms, and then work your way up or down.
Is There Another Way to Set the Release Time?
Absolutely! It all depends on the features of your compressor.
If your compressor has an auto-release function, use that as it will be more accurate than manually setting the release time.
You can now compress the slow attack time to around 20-40ms. Different tempos will have different slow attack times.
However, there are also moments where you would need a faster attack time, such as when the transients of your bass notes are inconsistent or when some notes are clicky and quiet.
You may also use a technique called serial compression. It is the process of using multiple compressors in a series, and its goal is to tame the peaks of the bass and anchor its dynamics.
The first step is to get your compressor to about 3dB of gain reduction and copy and paste the plugin.
Don’t forget to use makeup gain so the bass doesn’t become quieter.
Mixing Bass or Kick Drum: Things to Remember
Your bass and kick drum must go hand-in-hand to have a clean and noise-free mix!
Here are some tips on mixing the two instruments!
The goal of every artist is to have a healthy co-existence between the bass guitar and the kick drum – which is the bass’s older brother.
We all know of the tense rivalry between the kick and bass, but there is a way for both to exist together peacefully.
We will arrange both instruments in a way where the overtones of the bass do not intervene with the kick drum hits and where both do not interrupt the upper harmonics.
Panning bass and kick drum is NOT the way to go.
What we’ll do instead is to balance the low-end frequency instruments and create a room for each low end to sit and breathe.
To mix the bass and kick drum, use the Pocket EQ technique.
This technique effectively balances out the kick drum and the bass, and it’s a crucial part of mixing bass.
Step 1: Locate the Pocket for Both Instruments
Before anything else, we need to ask first, “Which instrument will be more dominant on the low end?” It will be either the kick drum or the bass, but not both.
Generally, the best pocket for the kick drum is below 100Hz, and the space for the bass guitar is between 100 and 200 Hz.
We’re avoiding the clash between these instruments in the low frequencies, especially since the kick drum features a naturally occurring sub-tone.
If you are unsure which should carry the low end, it depends on the genre of your song.
- A solid low end will depend on how both the kick and the bass tracks are organized.
- For example, if you are recording a song with hip-hop or an electronic beat, the KICK is prioritized in the sub-bass as it is already taking care of the sub-bass frequencies.
- If you are going for rock, punk, and a song with a lot of metal music, then the BASS has to dominate the lower end because it takes care of the sub EQ frequencies. That’s because the kick will be placed in the upper midrange.
Confused about whether you should use the bass guitar or the kick drum? Follow reference tracks and observe the low-end.
Step 2: Utilize a High-Pass Filter
A high-pass filter controls instruments in the low frequencies – such as the bass and kick – and allows the frequencies above to pass. This can be used when there’s conflict in the sub-bass.
The low end of bass instruments can interrupt a lot of parts, especially if it’s a bass guitar layered with synth bass.
Remember, our goal is to create and maintain a frequency balance between the bass and kick. The role of the high-pass filter is to help the bass and kick have a tighter sound together.
Want a rounder sound to your bass? High-pass filter.
Sub-bass fighting with the kick too much? High-pass filter.
This is especially important if the bass guitar provides the sub-bass.
However, remember NOT to take the filter higher than 30Hz, as it will negatively affect the kick and bass.
Step 3: Find a Place for Your Bass
Our next step is to make a place for our bass and for it to be boosted enough to make a presence in its own pocket.
You won’t need to boost too much as that will result in exaggerated bass, and we don’t want that to happen since the bass’s overtones tend to overpower the low end.
Don’t forget that boosting the bass part MAY NOT even be necessary!
If you think the bass tones are already strong without the boost, let it stay that way.
At the end of the day, use your intuition and your trained ears to determine whether to boost or not.
Now that we’ve created some space for our kick and bass guitar, our next goal is to review our existing recording and see if there’s anything we can improve.
Remember how we’ve already improved the consistency in the low end with the bass tracks? Now it’s time to do the same with the top end.
Utilize a low-pass filter between 6-10kHz to remove the top and midi notes that you don’t need.
The top end of the frequency range will now have a band-pass filter for our bass frequencies.
We are essentially making space for our bass tracks in the top end, so we also have this next step.
With the bass frequencies stable in both the low and top end, we can now improve the other parts of the mix.
Are the vocals interrupting the bass line? Or maybe both the bass and kick are still at odds with each other?
If you have discovered these, it’s time to fix them up.
The solution for this is to create more pockets for the bass in the EQ. Remove the low notes of the vocals or the instruments to create more space for the low end.
Now we’re done! You have created a harmony between the kick drum and the bass and made a space for them within the mix.
Extra Tips on Mixing Bass Sound Frequencies
Yes, in general, mixing is quite difficult to digest at first.
But don’t worry! Here are some additional tips to help you mix bass like a pro!
1. Saturate the Bass Line
Even though we already have the frequency response and dynamic EQ in control, the bass still lacks color and character.
Have you ever heard the bass line played in electronic music so clearly throughout the song?
More likely than not, the answer will be no.
That’s because small speakers cannot produce lower frequencies, so the tendency is for the bass recording to get lost in the vocals and other top-end instruments.
The goal of saturation is to make the bass full and sound better in small stereo systems such as headphones and phone speakers.
Saturation and distortion create harmonics which will help the bass guitars be heard in dense mixes.
How Do I Do This?
We need to saturate our lows by taking the tone knob of our plugin and lowering it down to the level of the frequency spectrum. To properly execute this effect, use the output knob.
To make the bass pop out even in the smallest of stereo systems, we can also use saturation to add subtle distortion to the end of the bass.
We can saturate the bass in the low mids and the above frequencies since these frequencies are the ones that pass through smaller stereo systems.
To cut through the mix, the bass will need to be saturated.
NOTE: Do not overdo this part! Neither the overtones of the bass sound good if they overpower the others.
2. Hold the Bass in Position
This would require juggling with the Threshold, Ration and Makeup Gain controls.
Bass would require some parallel compression to ensure a gentle sound, especially for genres such as acoustic.
To do this, follow these steps:
- Send the bass to an aux channel containing a super fast compressor.
- Apply compression at high ratios, resulting in a compressed signal. This will create a more consistent low end while maintaining the performance dynamics.
- Blend in the compressed signal.
Modern productions would need the bass between 1-30ms, its fundamental frequency. This makes musical sense as we all need a stable low end regardless of the genre.
Sometimes in the mix, loud bass can overpower lead instruments, but the key to solving this is to use a DI box as it can deal with very aggressive compression.
If you use electric bass and need to control the bass to give some breathing room to the sub-frequencies, you may opt to use parallel distortion.
Distortion can be used to mix bass effectively without too much compression, making it sound heavier without overpowering the vocals.
3. Sidechain Compression
This is another technique to ensure enough room on the low end of your track. Setting up a sidechain compression is simple!
- Insert a compressor on the bass buss. Ensure it has a sidechain or “key input” such as dbx 160 and Renaissance Compressor.
- Add a send to your spare aux channel from your kick drum channel.
- When you go back to your compressor, select the spare aux channel. The compressor will now be the trigger or “key input.”
- Set the compressor to a moderate fast attack time and release time. You can decrease the threshold until compression is applied whenever the kick hits.
You may also elevate the amp envelop attack and increase the release times of your killer bass. Trimming the front and tail of the bass will surely clean its sound.
4. Stay Away From Time-Based Effects
Reverb and delay to the bass guitar would result in a SUPER dynamic bass signal, overpowering the vocals and instruments.
Mix artists recommend very short-time-based effects. You can think of it as having an acoustic treatment so your bass will not trespass into other tracks.
- If you want the stereo chorus effect, you may also try adding a plugin called Doubler. You may download it here.
- This plugin can help you make your bass sound fatter and with more energy while also ensuring that it doesn’t get muddy in the low end.
A good alternative would be to bounce your subpart to audio and fade the sides to take away the clicks.
Elevating an amp envelope attack and release times can remove the impact of the front-end.
Bouncing the sub-part would take a lot of time, resulting in CLEANER audio for your bass.
5. Don’t Forget to Identify Problematic Frequencies
The bass will never sit right in the low-end as long as there are problematic frequencies. The sweeping technique is the best technique to clean problematic frequencies.
Follow these four steps to perform the sweeping technique:
- Increase the Q value on one of the EQ bands. This will result in the band being very narrow.
- Increase the gain for that specific EQ band.
- Scan through the frequencies and listen for frequencies that resonate above the rest.
- Reduce the frequency of that band and adjust the Q value.
Since we’re reducing the frequency of the problematic audios in this scenario, it’s best to use narrow bands for subtractive EQ.
6. Sculpt the Tone
If we want to add more character to our song, we will need to add some EQ to make it more appropriate to the genre that we are aiming for.
If you want to produce pop, hip-hop, and EDM songs, reinforcing low-end frequencies is key to helping our bass guitar cut through small speakers by adding upper harmonics.
This is also the technique used to bring out the midrange and enhance the noise from your string instruments.
You may also try out the presets made by other mixing engineers if you need some guidance on how to use the EQ to help you sculpt the tone of your song.
Tools to Help with Mixing Bass Track
Now onto the hardware!
Here are some of the best mixing tools for your next mixing session!
1. Decapitator by Soundtoys
Decapitator is an analog saturation modeler. Do you remember that saturation will be able to help your bass track pass through small frequency stereo systems?
This tool has five different analog saturation models, and it can add character to every kind of track. Soundtoys has put the best and most distinctive sounds into this model.
If you want to make your bass track more alive, use Decapitator, which will blend perfectly into your dry sound. If you don’t want to be subtle about it, this one has your back.
Soundtoys has added a “Punish” button to this model, perfect for pushing the limits of your bass until it becomes a banger!
If you think your bass needs to be dialed up a notch, this is the perfect tool!
2. Bass Rider by Waves Audio
We love this plugin because it covers ALL the basses: DI, amplified, acoustic, synth, upright and all the other basses out there.
PLUS, it retains the natural character of the bass while it aims to deliver a perfect bass level with consistency throughout the whole track.
We know how hard it is to maintain the same power in the bass for the whole song, but Bass Rider promises volume consistency even with acoustic bass.
Unlike a normal compressor, the Bass Rider works note to note, enabling you to improve a specific frequency range.
Attacks? Decays? Sustains? Releases? No problem!
We recommend you use this plugin to make your automation easier.
#3 C4 Multiband Compressor by Waves Audio
This other plugin from Waves processes multiband dynamics, which gives you full control of your bass.
Its features include expansion, limiting, compression, standard, and dynamic equalization.
PLUS, it has a visual analyzer to see what the C4 Multiband Compressor does in real-time.
Have we mentioned that it can also tame problematic frequencies?
This compressor ensures that you can hear your low-end frequencies throughout the whole song!
It has auto-release control, a trademark of the manufacturers and shapes the song dynamically using compression and expansion.
This compressor can also sculpt vocal frequency, which is SUPER needed, especially if the vocals are low enough to affect the bass.
#4 Bassroom by Mastering the Mix
If you are a beginner at mixing bass, you will absolutely adore Bassroom! It has multiple presents which can complement the materials you are working on.
It also gives you the freedom to work on your own as it enables you to create your own target values based on all the tracks on the window.
Have we mentioned that it has a unique approach to mixing bass?
The plugin is designed to show you how your song would sound in different rooms, so you know what to improve!
It also has live bypass automation, which proves a way to control changes in parameters of the whole arrangement.
It’s pretty cool, right?
What sets Bassroom apart from other equalizers are its specifically designed filters, and these have minimal phase distortion, so your music can still sound natural while being improved!
With an immersive 3D room display, you can see everything that is happening on your track and can enjoy the process of mixing bass too.
#5 MBassador by MedlaProduction
Do you want people to not just hear your music but feel it?
If so, the MBassador would have everything you need in a plugin.
We love this plugin because it has global preset management and online preset exchange so that you can work with other bright minds in the musical industry.
This plugin can add the following elements to your track:
- Higher tones
The best part is that with all these advanced features, this plugin remains user-friendly and simple to use.
The only downside we can see in this plugin is that you can’t manipulate a signal’s pitch. For a plugin of this caliber, it’s a pretty big letdown.
And, there we have it!
We hope you learned something about creating perfect harmony between the bass and the kick drum in this article.
Remember, there is no one way to mix both instruments, but there are fundamental concepts that we need to observe to create a professional-sounding track.
Good luck and happy mixing!