>Step by step
Sonic pocketing and basic mixing while writing
1 With my DAW (Cubase) set to a tempo of 174bpm, I’ve laid down a beats ’n’ bass groove comprising individual hits and percussive loops. The overall bass is broken into two parts: sub and mids. At this stage, the groove feels muddy and cluttered, so I want to get the mix under control before moving on.
2 First, the drums. I solo the top-end percussion and shaker elements, then high-pass every track at 250Hz to get rid of unnecessary booming frequencies. A slight boost at 2kHz accentuates the upper mids. So far, so standard…
3 My breakbeat layer is a little loose. To tighten the groove and create a ‘steppier’ rhythm, Nicky Romero KickStart creates a volume sweep over a one-bar loop. A gate plugin with a very sharp release tightens the break up further.
4 Next, I high-pass the kick at around 60Hz, making room for the bassline’s lows. I also EQ out overly resonant low-mid frequencies. For the hats, a slight dip at 9kHz smooths out the piercing tops, then FabFilter Saturn is used for subtle drive and tape saturation.
5 Snares next. In the sampler, I fine-tune the snare’s pitch to slot it in with the rest of the percussion. A 250Hz high-pass filter carves away bass. When EQing, I’ll avoid soloing too much, to help me get a handle on everything in context.
6 Now to ‘push up’ and enhance the drums. I send individual channels to an FX Channel, then apply crunchy drive to the parallel signal. Next in the chain, the Eos reverb provides a tight ‘space’, and iZotope’s Ozone 8 Imager enhances its stereo width. Finally, a 400Hz high-pass filter and 3dB EQ boost at 2kHz shift the signal’s focus towards the upper mids.
7 With the drums sounding sweeter, let’s get the sub bass working underneath. For a punchier, tighter tone, I tweak the sampler’s amp envelope Attack and Release times. It’s still a bit ‘flat’, so I call up two instances of Cubase’s Tremolo effect – one clocked to 1/4 notes, the other to 1/1T – to create extra volume wobble.
8 My processing in the previous step has shaped the sub bass’s volume over time, but its tone could be fattened up a bit – easily done with a weighty 40Hz EQ boost. Then, by opening up a low-pass filter with automation, I add very subtle movement over 16 bars.
10 Remember that top-end-enhancing FX Channel I set up earlier? I now send my two midrange bass channels to this same bus, which instantly gives them more ‘push’ and brightness. Using send/ return setups in this way, you can quickly meld disparate elements together, sweetening the mix overall.
11 It’s all coming together now. Next, I route all the drum tracks to a drum bus, and all the bass channels to a single bass bus. I’m a big fan of Slate Digital plugins for group processing, so I call up Virtual Mix Rack on each bus and stack up the modules, dialling in much-needed punch, glue and solidity.
9 Let’s move on to the midrange bass, comprising two reversed, distorted bass sounds, both pocketed into the midrange with tight EQ. Chorus from PSP Nitro and ambience from Eos give these vital elements the character and movement they need.
12 After evaluating the mix, it sounds like it could do with more RMS. A single parallel compression bus allows me to fatten up the elements that need it without disrupting the mix balance I’ve already set up. Piping the drum and bass bus signals to this ‘squashing’ FX Channel gives my mix the final stage of weight and glue it needs.