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How Much is Too Much Bass?

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We all love the feeling of bass – in the car, in a nice pair of headphones, in the club… It’s one of the most essential elements of hip-hop. It’s easy to fall to the trap of too much bass! If you’re not mixing on familiar speakers and not referencing mixes, it can be easy to lose track of where your levels should be, but here are 5 fail-safe rules to live by when mixing bass and kick:

1. Don’t clip your faders – (if you are clipping your meters from your bass, you’re wayyyy too far) You might love the sound of your bass in your mix, but when you bounce the track, you might suddenly find a strange clipping that occurs when you listen back in the car. The reason for this is more than likely a clipping sub-bass (below 100hz). This mistake can easily occur on a sound system that isn’t equipped to monitor down below 40 or 50hz. You don’t notice it because it’s not being replicated by your monitoring system, but it’s still tripping your compressors and limiting from source as it passes through the master bus. If your vocals are clipping out when the beat drops, this is almost definitely the case.

2. Dial in your 30-40hz range (if your monitors go down that low) – Set up a high-pass filter with a steep Q. Close your eyes, and roll off the sub starting at 10hz. When the bass starts to sound clear and tight, you’ve found the sweet spot. Do the same for your kick drum, and be amazed at the clarity and punch of your low end! The truth is, many tracks don’t have any valuable information below 30hz. It just sounds like mud, and it gets in the way of your precious bass space! Get rid of it! If you A/B your new bass EQ and it’s lost a bunch of power, you’ve gone too far. Songs in the key of C often-times can be cut at 32hz because the note’s fundamental frequency starts at 32hz. There are exceptions to this, but this serves as a decent guideline for high-pass cuts.

3. Compress and saturate – One sure-fire way to get your bass popping out of the speakers is to parallel compress the bass for thickness, and saturate for punch and tone. When I do this, I’m listening for harmonics above 200hz. I’m not looking for more low-end distortion, I’m instead looking for high end information to start popping out. Some of my favorite plugin saturators include: T-Racks Saturator X, the Ableton Saturator (soft clip is wicked nice), and Saturn by Fabfilter!

4. Make sure your sub is mono – On headphones, a stereo 808 might sound like a great idea. On a great pair of speakers, the punch and power of the low end is easily lost, especially in the club. An easy way to fix this is to use a multi-band imager, and collapse everything below about 120hz to mono (no stereo width). This will protect the punch of your low-end punch, and ensure that no phase issues are ruining the strength of your bass.

5. Experiment! – What happens if you add a flanger to your bass above 200hz? What happens if you run a parallel chain with tons of distortion, and you high-pass it at 500hz? What happens if you add rev- NO!!!! DON’T DO IT! NO REVERB ON BASS!!!!

Okay you get the idea. In general, you don’t need to slam your bass fader if you have everything levelled correctly. Compression and saturation can be great to manhandle bass, but if I’m being completely honest, the bass that always comes out the best is the bass that you hardly have to do anything to! Sample selection is 90% of the battle with bass. Take your time, do some digging, and find a great bass sample or synth patch. It’ll save you time in the long run, and you’ll probably find some new favorites in the process!