Finalizing bass in the mix

Disclaimer – UPDATE 13/11/2020
This post is really old. Times change and techniques improve, if you want to have more up to date information on how to get an aggressive metal tone for your bass just head over this more recent post

As you may already know, I’m a bass player, so I’m really careful when it’s time to mix the bass. Too many times some people have the idea to put the bass a little “behind” everything, but I think it’s quite important to put the bass where it deserves: everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be sarcastic, what I mean is that the bass has to be consistent and always supporting every track in the mix throughout the entire song, a real “reference” for the right building of riffs and harmonies. If you lost my post on how to build a heavy bass sound with layered bass, now it’s time to check it out before continue reading, as I’m starting from the result of that process to get the bass right with the drums, and ready to receive all other tracks during the mix.

To help myself I wrote a little drum part using EZDrummer. I’ll mix the bass listening to the drums going on, getting the bass right is a delicate process, require a lot of processing to achieve good results, it’s important to mix it listening also to drums, in particular to kick drum, as they share the low part of the frequency spectrum, and you may have fighting issues with the interaction of the two instruments.

First of all, let’s sweet the bass track of the previous post. As usual you must filter everything you don’t need under 40/60 Hz with a high pass filter, then start to find out what you should remove if some muddiness is still affecting your bass. I found that between 250 and 500 Hz there was still a lot of muddiness going on, so I made a deep and broad cut around this region. This kind of mudd usually depends on the material of the instrument. In addition, there’s a frequency range where the typical “clack” of the strings comes out, between 2.5kHz and 4kHz. You know, I usually like this kind of sound, but you can sweet it cutting the “bad part” of it, with a cut in that range. This is how I used Reaper’s ReaEQ to do this processing:

ReaEQ settings - Bass track
ReaEQ settings – Bass track

After this “scooping” activity, it’s time to give the bass lot of body and make it the more consistent you can, bass has to be in its place in the mix, can’t jump up and down with gain, must be always there (am I biased? Maybe!). A really good technique is to use two different compressors, used in chain to balance the load of the signal, instead of using too much compression with a single compressor. If you have a FET compressor (a 1176-style one) to uniform the sound, followed by a LA2A-type to control the peaks after the first compressor, it would be great. Of course, you can use just one plugin using it twice with the right settings, that’s what I’ve done with ReaComp, as you can see from the images:

ReaComp settings - 1st compressor to even the bass sound
ReaComp settings – 1st compressor to even the bass sound
ReaComp settings - 2nd Compressor to control peaks
ReaComp settings – 2nd Compressor to control peaks

Now it’s time to finalize everything, reducing to the minimum variations of the singal amplitude, mantaining it constant for the most part and giving it the right gain all over the song. The target is to have the best sounding consistent bass, until you can barely see moving the line on your track meter, just one thought: keep on listen to what you have, it’s easy to overdo during this processing, be careful or you’re going to ruin all your work here. A brickwall limiter is what you need right now, as the popular Waves L1. I decided to go with Reaper’s MasterLimiter, with these settings:

masterLimiter settings - finalizing the process
masterLimiter settings – finalizing the process

This is how the bass sounds with the drums at the end of the process, a thunder bass, “always there”, ready to support all other tracks of the mix:

And with drums:

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