It’s been said that the low end of your mix is “what separates the men from the boys.” But it can be really hard to get right, right?
Every mix poses its own unique challenges, and I never mix two songs the same way. However, here are six tips for getting a handle on the low end in your mix. Some of these may seem odd or strange.
Give ‘em a shot. They seem to work for me.
1. Mix Before You Record
Wait a second…mix before you record? That’s just silly. Well, hear me out.
Whenever somebody sends me a question about the low end in their mixes, their focus is almost 100% on mixing. There’s this subtle underlying assumption — that the source shouldn’t matter, that the real tone in a mix comes from mixing.
For example, I’m working on a song right now that is sounding amazing. Drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitars, percussion. All of it has been recorded and doesn’t have a single plugin on it…and yet it sounds incredible. What happened?
I mixed before I recorded.
It’s not simply “getting it right at the source.” It’s a bit more than that. It’s making the recorded signal sound like you want it to sound in the mix. Who cares if you can get a huge acoustic guitar sound if it really needs to be fairly thin and bright in the mix? Exactly. Try mixing before you record. While you’re setting up mics and getting levels, focus on capturing the sound you want for that song.
Every time I make an effort to make the recorded tracks sound really close to how I want them to sound in the mix, I have so much more fun mixing. Not only that, my mixes turn out better.
Yes, there are plenty of things to do in the mixing phase, but don’t assume that good mixes happen during mixes. They started long before that.
2. Use A HPF For More Bass
Okay, that one sounds a little stupid, too. I’m not talking about using a high-pass filter on all your non-bass tracks (although I highly recommend doing that). I’m talking about using a HPF on your bass and kick drum tracks.
Don’t you just love the sound of 40 Hz? Yeah, me neither. And chances are your mixes doesn’t need information THAT low. Some genres call for it, but most of us don’t need that much sub bass.
I’ve recently started putting a HPF on my bass and kick drum tracks, rolling off everything below 40 Hz or so. And? Suddenly the bass feels bigger and has more punch and thump.
Hmm…Getting rid of the unnecessary bass seems to make the bass sound better. Very interesting.
3. Compression Attack Times are HUGE
Chances are you’re going to compress your kick drum and bass guitar. I do, almost every time. But how much compression you use is only a part of the equation. The attack time of that compressor makes an immense difference in the sound of the bass.
If you’re in the habit of always adjusting the threshold, ratio, and output gain knobs, but you never touch the attack knob, you’re hurting yourself.
Raising the attack can allow that bass to really thump. Turning down the attack can really help emphasize the “click” on the kick drum. Finding that sweet spot with attack will improve your low end by leaps and bounds.