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In The Studio: Six Tips For Dialing In The Low End

Looking at multiple factors and techniques for tightening up the relationship between the bass guitar and the kick drum in recorded tracks.

By Joe Gilder July 25, 2018

4. Play With Faders Before EQ Knobs

Of course you need to use EQ on your bass and kick drum tracks. Carve out some low mids, let those bass frequencies shine through. But before you get all slap-happy with EQ, make sure you’ve spent some time with the faders.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent 10 minutes wrestling with a bass track, trying a bunch of different EQ and compression tricks, only to realize that turning it down in the mix by 3 dB fixed all the problems I was having.

Having the right balance between your kick and bass can get you much closer to the sound you want, long before your reach for that EQ.

5. Figure Out Who’s “The Man”

There really can only be one boss down below 150 Hz. Who’s the man in the mix? Who’s holding down the low end? Is it kick? Is it the bass? Is it some other instrument? Figure that out, then make the other one “work around” the man.

In other words, if the kick drum really has the bass sound that you want, then EQ the bass guitar to “sit” nicely alongside the kick. This may mean that you remove some more bass frequencies from the bass to make sure the kick sounds great. That’s okay.

It can work the other way, too. Sometimes the kick drum doesn’t sound super deep. It may be rocking around 120 Hz, but there’s not much information down below that. In that instance, maybe the bass guitar should be the man, holding down the low end, and you shape the kick drum around that.

It’s all about compromise.

6. Don’t Forget Good Ol’ Fletcher-Munson

Your monitoring level can make or break the low end in your mix. If you went to school for recording, you probably learned about the Fletcher-Munson Curves. It’s a pretty dorky topic, but what you need to know is this:

Bass frequencies behave differently at different volumes. The louder you listen to music, the more bass it seems to have. Think about it. When you crank up your studio monitors, you can hear a nice, big bass sound, right? What happens when you turn ‘em down really low? You only hear the high-frequency stuff. The bass frequencies mostly disappear.

I was listening to a CD the other day. It was really good music, but the bass was simply too loud, consistently loud throughout the entire CD. When I turned it down to a nice, low volume, the bass was STILL loud. The bass balance at low volumes was pretty good, but at normal listening volumes it was overwhelming.

The take-away point? If you’re mixing at lower volumes, don’t try to crank the bass up so you can hear it. When you listen at louder volumes it will be too loud. I’m not saying mix with really loud levels; just be careful. Bass does different things at different volumes. Make sure your mix works at different volumes.

To learn more, check out my Understanding Compression videos.

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About Joe

Joe Gilder
Joe Gilder

Sound Engineer
Joe Gilder is a Nashville based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.

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