One of the most difficult parts of mixing is creating a low-end that is clear and not muddled.
Naturally, our ears are better at detecting nuances between higher frequencies rather than lower, making a standout bass section a clear mark of a seasoned engineer.
That said, there’s certainly no substitute for experience… however, there are a couple of EQ guidelines that can fast track your path to a tighter mix.
For instance, knowing that upright, sub, 808, and other types of bass should be processed differently is essential to mastering the coveted punchy bass EQ settings we all strive for.
So let’s dive into the mechanics of bass equalization, and get you one step closer to mixing the bass line of your dreams.
Why EQ Bass?
Before we get into specific bass types, it’s important to understand why we bother to EQ bass in the first place.
Kick Drum Competition
The most common reason, and for the same reason we choose to sidechain the bass, is that the kick and bass often rest at similar frequencies. Since the Kick and Bass are often driving forces for any track, it’s important that they are both able to be heard and appreciated at their own sound range. Without EQs, the two become conglomerated and the structure of the track falls apart.
Bass frequencies don’t just center around the low-end. Depending on your bass of choice, there could be high-end tail frequencies that will interfere with the rest of the mix, even if they are barely audible when the bass is solo tracked. Subtractive EQ, or taking away deliberate frequencies, is vital to a cohesive mix in both the high and low ends of the spectrum.
Philosophy aside, some producers swear by boosting certain frequencies in a bass mix to achieve a particular timbre or tone quality – particularly, for instance, in striving to get a clear bass line sound to come through on laptop or even smartphone loudspeaker. EQs allow for this possibility and give the engineer tools to make their bass more distinct.
How to EQ different Types of Bass
With so many bass types out there, it’s important to know the differences in each of the processing styles. Here are a couple of quick tips for EQing various basses.
Bass Guitar, especially if recorded into the DAW directly, can have a lot of unnecessary high-end frequency information. Make sure to low pass those frequencies out. Oftentimes, the sweet spot for bass guitar is right around 200 Hz, so use a high pass filter to leave some room for the kick. Some producers even add a bit of boost right above 200 Hz to give the guitar more emphasis.
Using Synth Bass is an excellent way to emphasize your bass line without having to stack layers upon layers. When EQing synth bass, you’ll have to consider the mid-range frequencies more so than other bass types and hence get them to work together.
Use EQs with visualizers so that you can see where your synth bass is hitting. If your midrange becomes cluttered, consider dropping out frequencies and/or adjusting other sounds in the mix. Again, it all comes down to what your goals are. If the bass is the focus of your mix, act accordingly and vice versa.
Upright Bass is often recorded live into a DAW, making the recording process extremely important. Try to minimize any ulterior frequencies in the recording environment so that you will have to do less equalization later. As with any live recording, the purer the audio signal, the better – make sure you have the right microphone for the job. Upright bass tends to lie in the 80 Hz frequency range, so roll-off frequencies that are distracting with your EQ.
In general, the sub bass is probably the most difficult to mix due to its almost inaudible nature. For this mix, you’re definitely going to need to rely on visuals as well as your ears, so definitely begin with an EQ that has live visualizers built-in.
Usually, sub bass lives in the 40 to 60HZ range. More than anything else it adds a feel of strength not so much tonality, although it is important it is recorded in key. When in doubt, you can add sub-bass with the appropriate plugin. When adding sub bass, think of the parts of your song that could use a bit more power.
For example, it may be most beneficial to add sub bass to the chorus of a song, which will help create a distinction between the section and the regular verses. Make sure that other simultaneous instrumentation is rolled off with a low pass filter. If overlapped, the sub bass loses its strength and becomes useless.
It’s also a good idea to cut out any harsh humming/resonance. Sub bass is typically some sort of pure sound wave, which can be overpowering. Solo the track and lessen the blow by Qing out overbearing tones.
Although the term “808” refers to the original Roland TR 808 that revolutionized drum machines, it has become synonymous with beefy kick/bass sounds with a long audio tail that are often pitch modulated for effect.
When mixing these types of sounds, it’s essential that the EQ is used to make as much room for them as possible since they are built for emphasis and can take up a wide range of frequencies. Employ subtractive EQ and take out any competing frequencies. Similarly to Sub Bass, 808 bass is great for embellishment and doesn’t have to be in all parts of a track to be effective.
In general, EQing for a punchy bass all comes down to being mindful of your sounds, where they lie within a frequency spectrum and carving out the mix to help the bass and kick shine in harmony.
If you cater your surrounding instruments to agree with your bass by way of subtractive equalization, you are bound to have a memorable, punchy bass that will stand out amongst the crowd. If you don’t know where to start or feel intimidated by the in-depth mechanics, try using a reference track.
Use your ears to help guide your EQ process, and compare back to a song where you feel the bass is phenomenal. Be sure to try out one of these tips on your next mix!