Mixing Low End: Mix Kick & Bass Without Using Sidechain

Today we’ll be covering a topic that even some so-called pro engineers struggle with, I’ll be covering the topic of mixing low end and showing you how to mix kick and bass without using sidechain.

Be very careful when taking advice online because mixing a live recorded kick or bass is different from mixing programmed sounds.

Some tutorials cover this topic without putting that into consideration then you end up wondering why your mix can’t compete or translate well in different sound systems.

I want this to be your last tutorial about mixing low end.

What is Low End in Music?

This can be a tricky question to answer but to make things easier for you to understand, I would say that the low end in music is any frequencies that are below 250Hz.

These are simply known as your sub (20-80Hz) and bass (80-250Hz) frequencies.

Other commonly used words for this frequency range in the audio engineering community are lows and bottom end.

In this post, I’ll be using these words interchangeably but just remember that they all mean the same thing.

Monitoring

One of the most important factors of getting a great balance in the low end is to have a good monitoring system that can produce bass.

Make sure that you’re using good speakers that can produce bass so that you can make good judgment decisions when mixing the low end.

When purchasing speakers check that your speakers have a frequency response that starts from 20Hz or at least 35Hz then you should be able to hear the bass frequencies much clearer.

If your room has good acoustics then you can get a subwoofer to increase your chances of success when you mix kick and bass.

The subwoofer is a good addition to your monitoring system but it’s not a must.

Mono or Stereo When Mixing Low End?

When it comes to mixing low end, there’s a big debate on whether the kick and bass should be mono or stereo.

It doesn’t matter, I know a lot of engineers who work with stereo low end and still get it to translate well in different sound systems.

The reason we frequently recommend you to keep your low end in mono is simply because that’s the safest way to guarantee that your low end will sound great no matter where the song gets played.

Getting a stereo bass or kick to work well in any sound device can be tricky and challenging but most speakers can produce a mono signal easily.

So, if you have the experience then use a stereo low end, it also sounds great, just make sure that when the mix is played in mono the bottom end doesn’t fall flat or disappear.

Choose Complementary Sounds

Another most important aspect of mixing kick and bass is to use sounds that complement each other. That will make your mixing job much simpler.

It’s really important to make sure that you get the right sound straight from the source.

What I mean is that if you have a boomy bass then don’t choose a kick that is also boomy. If the kick is boomy then make sure that your bass sound has less sub frequencies (and vice versa).

If you’re working with a client and not mixing your music then check if they can re-record, or change the bass sound if they’re using VSTs.

The best engineers always have a great sounding low end because they work with sounds that already complement each other instead of trying to force sounds that don’t work well together to sound amazing.

So, make sure that the recording or sound design is proper before attempting to mix kick and bass.

Use A Frequency Analyzer

You should always let one instrument win.

What I mean by that is you can’t have both kick and bass fighting for the same space in the frequency spectrum.

You should always decide which instrument is going to dominate the subs and which one is going to take care of the bass frequencies.

Once you have the experience you can simply listen to the song and instantly figure that out but for beginners, the easiest way is to use a frequency analyzer to make things much easier.

Each song is different so don’t make the mistake of doing the same thing on every mix that you work on.

A great way to train your ears is to listen to some of your favorite mixes and try to determine which frequencies each sound dominates.

In some genres such as dance music, you’ll find that 90% of the time, the kick dominates the sub frequencies.

When it comes to hip-hop, 90% of the time the bass or 808 drum dominates the sub frequencies and the kick dominates 80Hz and above.

But whenever you’re not sure then insert a frequency analyzer on both the kick and bass to determine a good pocket for both sounds.

Resource: Mixing Kick Drum – Get Punchy Kicks On Every Mix

EQ Kick and Bass

One of the most horrible ways to EQ kick and bass is to do what is shown in the image below:

mixing bass and kick drum

If you choose sounds that compliment each other then you don’t need to create bad EQ settings as shown in the image above.

The problem with equalizing bass like that is because the bass or 808 is usually dynamic, the notes keep changing.

So, if you cut the bass at 50Hz for example, what you’ve done is to simply reduce the volume of a few notes and that will ruin the performance of the bass player since only those few notes will be low in volume while other notes are loud.

The same thing applies if you boost the bass at 100Hz, what you’re doing is to simply make a few notes louder, again, ruining a good bass performance.

So, since the bass is dynamic you have to avoid doing narrow cuts or boosts.

Here are key frequencies that will make the bass cut through a mix:

  • Around 700Hz: This is the body of the bass
  • Around 1.5kHz: This frequency range brings up the presence
  • Around 4kHz: This is where you’ll find the snap, string sound, and make the notes audible.

You don’t have to bring up all these frequencies at the same time. Add these only if the bass is lacking these frequencies.

I never cut any frequencies for the bass because I always work on sounds that compliment each other.

Here are key frequencies for the kick:

  • 400Hz-500Hz: This is the muddy area and I always create a cut to make space for midrange sounds.
  • 3kHz-5kHz: This is where you’ll find the snap and attack.
  • 800Hz - 1.5kHz: Only boost this area if the kick lacks midrange but be careful because this frequency range can make your kick sound boxy.
  • 250Hz-300Hz: Sometimes cutting this area can make space for other sounds in the mix.

Remember, these are just guidelines you always have to do what works best for the mix you’re currently working on.

But these guidelines should give you a good starting point and help you avoid getting stuck.

Reduce Frequency Masking in the Low End

When mixing low end it’s not just about working on the kick and bass only, you also have to remove low end on sounds that will add clutter in the low end.

One thing you don’t have to do is to use a high pass filter on anything by default. I know most people will recommend that you must use a high pass filter on everything besides the kick and bass.

That approach will cause your mixes to sound thin, instead, just remove the low end on sounds that are causing too much build up in the low end.

If you don't have good monitoring then use a frequency analyzer, as suggested above.

If you’re working with live recorded material then you MIGHT need to create low cuts on most sounds but if you’re working with samples or VSTs then be careful with low cuts.

However, low cuts are also crucial to make sure the bottom end of your mix sounds clear without any rumble or clutter.

Why You Need to Compress Kick and Bass

The one thing that most beginners struggle with is why you need compression when it comes to mixing kick and bass (or any sound for that matter).

The obvious reason most fail is that they don’t know why they’re using the compressor. They just want to insert the compressor because they saw or read about it in a tutorial.

When it comes to processing sounds in a mix, it’s very important to picture the end results before pulling out your favorite plugins or hardware unit.

To compress for the right reasons you first have to understand “why” and “when” you need to use compression. That’s what a lot of beginners struggle with, not the “how” part.

How to use a compressor is an easy concept to grasp so in this part of the tutorial I want to help you understand why you need to use a compressor.

Once you have that figured out, the “how-to” part becomes much easier.

Here's why and when it's the right time to use compression:

  • Reducing Loud Peaks: a compressor can be used to reduce loud peaks on a recording when the musician gets carried away and hits some notes way too loud in other areas of the performance.
  • Shaping Sounds: compression can be used to shape the envelope of sounds by bringing up the attack or decay. Or do the opposite.
  • Transparent Compression: this is used to even-out an overall performance dynamics, and is meant to be felt not heard.
  • Pump Effect: the release has to be scaled to musical values (1/4, 1/8, or 1/16 note), this will emphasize the rhythmic movement.
  • Solidifying Compression: the purpose of this style of compression is to bring density and clarity to a sound. The compressor must have multistage release characteristics to achieve this technique.
  • Glue: this compression technique tightens up a group of instruments or to glue elements together in a mix, as opposed to compressing individual tracks.

Of course, compression can also be used as an effect (ear candy) and for other reasons but these are the most common reasons you’ll need to compress any sound in a mix.

From here on it’s your job to learn the parameters of a compressor, I won’t cover that here simply because this is information can be found very easy online.

Once you understand the parameters then you simply tweak them till you get the results that you’re after. Whether it’s emphasizing punch, increasing decay, or controlling dynamic range, etc.

When it comes to kick and bass make sure that these 2 sounds are not too dynamic because when they are too dynamic they’ll never translate well on small speakers (phone, laptop, earbuds, bluetooth speakers, etc.).

Resource: How To Mix Bass For Small Speakers

Gluing the Low-End

One of the best ways to make sure that the kick and bass are not too dynamic in a mix is to send them to a bus/group channel.

In the group channel, insert a compressor, use a slow attack (30ms or above), preferably auto release, and a low ratio.

This doesn’t work all the time though, only use this technique if your kick and bass are too dynamic to make sure that they translate well on multiple sounds devices.

Sound devices such as small speakers have a small dynamic range and most people these days are listening to music on small speakers so make sure that your low end is not too dynamic.

Parallel Compression

If your low end is sounding too thin then you can use parallel compression to bring up that low end.

Parallel compression will work well if you want to keep your kick and bass dynamic, but at the same time, you want it to translate well on small speakers.

Since the parallel track will be squashed and all the notes will be at the same volume, small speakers will be able to produce the low end.

In some genres such as jazz, you want to keep sounds dynamic and as natural as possible so use parallel compression to make sure that your low end can translate well on different sound systems.

Parallel Distortion

Using parallel distortion is another great technique you need to use when mixing low end to make sure that your kick and bass are audible in multiple monitoring systems.

Using distortion adds harmonics and excitement.

One thing I never do is to add distortion directly on the kick or bass channel, I prefer to do it in parallel. That way I have more control over the distorted signal, I can EQ or add any processing tools to help it fit the mix.

You don’t want the distortion muddying your mix or adding clutter, so that’s why it’s important to always be able to control it.

Bass Enhancement Plugins

To give your low end new energy and strength without turning to conventional EQ you can use bass enhancement plugins.

Bass enhancement is a technique whereby a plugin saturates a part of the low-frequency content to create a well-defined low end.

Bass enhancements plugins can help your mix sound powerful, consistent, and well-controlled in the low end, in a way that isn’t as easy to mimic with just EQ and compression.

Here are some of my favorite and widely used bass enhancement plugins:

  • Little Labs Voice Of God: Craft bass frequencies on drums, bass, and more, far beyond simple EQing. Make your mixes’ low-end lean, tight, and punchy.
  • MaxxBass by Waves: MaxxBass uses psycho-acoustics to calculate precise harmonics that are related to the fundamental tones of sound. When these harmonics are combined, it creates the effect of lower, deeper frequencies. The results are a bass you can feel.
  • R-Bass by Waves: The industry’s favorite plugin for delivering a richer, deeper low end that translates even on small playback systems. When you need your bass to be heard even on a laptop or mobile device, Renaissance Bass is your best friend.

Use References

Whenever you find yourself struggling with mixing low end in a mix, one of the best ways to eliminate guesswork is to listen to some of your favorite mixes to figure out how the low end was mixed.

Make sure that you use multiple reference songs to avoid making poor decisions.

Listening to one reference can lead you to make poor decisions but when you listen to multiple references you’ll be able to find one that has a similar or the same low end as the mix that you’re currently working on.

Just avoid trying to get your mix to sound exactly like the reference.

BassRoom by Mastering the Mix

bassroom by mastering the mix

BassRoom is a great plugin that will help you finalize your mix and make sure that your low end is well balanced.

This plugin puts you in a 3D sound visualizer that’s separated by different frequencies. It’s a unique approach to mixing and innovative. Perhaps ideal for mastering the art of mixing low end.

The great part is that you can let the plugin use it’s artificial intelligence capabilities to match the low end of your mix with your favorite reference track. It also has some presets from different genres but I would recommend you to use your reference song for the best results.

Balancing the low-end is one of the hardest challenges in any mix or master. BASSROOM is a final mix and mastering EQ that helps beginners and pros nail their low-end in seconds.

Download BassRoom: https://audiospectra.net/d91s

Wrap

All in all, the low-end is a very delicate yet extremely important part of the mix.

Try out all the techniques shared in this post on your next mix to give your mixes that “punch” it needs without compromising the entire production.

Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and let me know which of these low end mixing techniques you’ll implement on your next mix.