Mammoth samples. Big-ass digitalaudio dynamic ranges. Sub-harmonic processors. Incisive EQ plug-ins. Oh, yeah. Today’s recording geek has quite an armory of tools to pump up bass frequencies towards that goal of blowing the front doors off an Escalade. But what if you’re not into low end as an urban assault weapon? Modern record production indeed favors big, chunky bass frequencies— just like gargantuan snare drums typified a lot of ’80s rock—but you can still embrace the wallop without having it hurt anyone you love or muddy up your tracks. Here are some ideas for taming bass beasts.
Pick Your Boom
Now, if you want those pounding, sub-harmonic kicks and layered bass frequencies, you can stop reading right here and move on to Craig Anderton’s latest gear goodies. But whether you desire massive kabooms, or want to reign in the lows a bit, it always makes sense to consider your end user. Obviously, if you are doing club mixes that will be played through subwoofers as beefy as battleships, then you can probably pummel your tracks with enough low frequencies to bounce the planet off its axis. But, these days, many casual listeners rip audio to their iPods, and although some pretty kick-ass earbuds are available, it’s typically a good move to lighten up on the rumble a bit.
Check Out the Bottom
Once you’ve developed a likely audience scenario, reference the low end on your mixes to other pro tracks. Get some CDs, vinyl, or mp3s done by artists and producers you admire, and find a way to easily switch backand- forth between your mixes and theirs. For example, you can run the various audio signals through a mixer, or record the audio tracks into your DAW. Concentrate on how your low end stacks up against that of the tracks you dig. Is your bass as warm, detailed, articulate, gritty, loud, etc.? What do you need to do to get your bass up to the level of your audition tracks? Switching between your mix and the others, evaluating the sonic spectrums, and then adjusting EQ, compression, and other processing elements as needed, should get you close to bliss.
There’s Something in My Soup!
You’re referencing tracks and your bass sounds muddy compared to your fave Killers mix, but no amount of EQ diddling seems to significantly diminish the goop. You may be a victim of “resonant-frequency alliance.” Sometimes, similar frequencies can enhance the best or worst parts of an instrument’s overall tone. It’s like a gift when, say, an acoustic guitar and a midrange keyboard part collaborate to add a beatific sheen on your electric-guitar riff. It’s not so good if low-end synths, organs, baritone guitars, effects, toms, kick drums, or other mix elements swimming in the 200Hz or lower range get together and transform your music into a Woodstock-in-the-rain mud fest.
The easiest method to determine whether you’ve been victimized by resonating frequencies is to seek out all possible collaborators and assess their low end. Pick an element that you want to retain its current bass sound, and then ruthlessly tweak all other elements to clear out sonic space for your “main event.” For example, you may love your electric bass sound and do not want to touch it. Fine. Perhaps the guitar tone is too low, or the organ, or the kick drum. Perhaps you boosted too many other elements within the 80Hz–100Hz range. Determine which elements you can live with thinning out, grab that EQ, and cut out any unnecessary boom around 60Hz–250Hz. Experiment. Then, listen and see if the low end starts to get clearer, cleaner, and more distinct. When you’re tapping your foot and smiling—freeze. You’ve nailed it.