One of the trickiest parts of doing a full on track as far as my experience is concerned is dealing with that low end. Whether its recording an electric bass track, proper EQing for a kick drum or even mixing vocals can cause headaches as far as those lower frequencies are concerned. Earlier this week, we here at PAL have been focusing on different aspects and procedures on recording an electric bass. We discussed the two main methods of recording – through DI or an amp to mic – along with each of their pros and cons. We discussed how recording through DI can give you a clean, unadulterated bass signal that is perfect for post recording procedures such as compression and EQ, although you will have to have an appropriate quality bass and enough skill since a clean recording will only come out that way when played clean. Amp to mic on the other hand requires a bit more recording knowledge such as using the proper mic as well as setting them up just right. While it’s true that amp to mic recording requires more work, the natural colorations and warm subtleties afforded by the amplifier are just not present in DI, making this choice of recording a must for those who just have to have that amp flavoring. Not only that, we talked about combining the two methods for a single recording, the benefits and some tips on trouble shooting common problems such as signal phase mixing. You can check out the article right here. Alright, so that covers the recording aspect of the bass, but what about after you lay down those tracks?
Common Problems When Dealing With Low End Frequencies
Hands down, the biggest single reason why it’s tougher to work with the low end is because most of the time, we can’t even hear it! Well, that’s not so much because of our ears or anything but more specifically it’s that unless you’re using a pretty expensive set of studio monitors, you probably won’t be able to clearly reproduce that low end, but it’s definitely still there. And if you happen to be one of the many players out there who use headphones for their mixing, you better believe you won’t be able to get a clear picture of the bass. The thing is, bass frequencies need pretty big speakers in order to accurately portray their sound and headphones most certainly do not have big speakers. Even if you spend hours meticulously working on a track until it sounds perfect, if you’re monitoring system can’t show you that entire low end, you will have no idea what’s going on – pretty much a shot in the dark as far as getting that low-end mixed correctly is concerned. And let’s just say you do happen to have a capable sub woofer in your arsenal and the bass frequencies on your track sound great, you might find that popping that song of yours at a friend’s house through their system will yield less than favorable results. Or maybe they have a better system and now the bass is too loud? Anyways, I’m sure I made my point, and although it would be easy to just expect every single person to own the same pair of $5,000 speakers, in the real world, that’s just not going to happen, and all of those professional record producers know this too. Does this mean you will need expensive speakers? Not at all, as long as you keep firmly in your mind that your speakers might not be giving you an accurate depiction of that low end, but a decent set will make your task much easier. Clearly, the goal here is to be able to create a track that sounds well mixed on any kind of system, but how exactly do we get that?
Get to Know Your Monitoring System
If you want to create a well mixed track like the pros do, you’re going to have to listen to and really get to know your monitors. Essentially, what you will need to do is find out how your monitors sound when playing professionally mixed tracks (such as your favorite recording artist’s CD) and get a feel for how it responds to various instruments and their frequencies. In this case, we’re focusing on the low end, but it’s a good idea to get an overall picture. While listening to tracks from your favorite genre is a good place to start, try various different styles – the more, the better – to again give you a clearer picture of your monitors. Unfortunately, before you will be able to truly listen and hear the true sound of your speakers, it is best to make sure that your monitors are set up in the best possible way. Long story short, depending on how you setup your monitors in relation to certain things like the walls or your ears, certain frequencies may sound louder than others while some might even be muted out completely, making mixing a well balanced track on your monitors almost impossible, not to mention makes getting to know how they sound with pro tracks much less effective. Luckily for you we have already taken a closer look at proper speaker placement which you can read all about right here! Alright, so once you get your speakers set up in their proper position and you’ve listened to enough professional mixes to hear how a good mix should sound on your system, you are set up for success! The ultimate goal here is to understand how well your mix is going to translate to other audio systems. Remember, if your mix has a nice low bass on your monitors but kind of sounds a bit too heavy on most speakers, your mix at home might end up having to sound thin in order to compensate, so keep that in mind.
Now You Are Ready For Taking On That Low End
Now that you have that down, and maybe brush up on some bass recording techniques, we can move on compression and EQ which are in my opinion the two single most important aspects to get right if you want your mix to sound as full and balanced as the pros and even more important when talking about that low end since for most bands it is up to the bass and kick drum to hold down that low end and nothing more, meaning that if you don’t get that right, the entire mix will suffer. And although it’s definitely not impossible and can be accomplished by anyone willing to give it a good try (along with the right amount of knowledge), it’s not child’s play, meaning will have to wait for tomorrow when we will have much more time. But until then, don’t forget to check out the useful articles linked above as they will be directly helping us with getting that perfectly mixed low end when we more on to part II of EQ and compression for bass.