All about the bass
The biggest factor to consider when creating and mixing club music is bass. There’ll obviously be a huge difference between how bass frequencies sound in your studio (or headphones) and how they come across when blasted through an enormous PA system. Ever heard a record that features a restrained, almost ‘weedy’ low end at home, but suddenly turned into something altogether more weighty and monstrous in the club?
This is why referencing – as discussed on the previous page – is so damn important. Assuming that it’s already a part of your working process, there are then a few more things to consider when handling bass. First, your low end must be
tight. The overlapping of bass quickly causes sub flap, mud and blur. Your kick drum and bass must be separated, and their fundamental frequencies should live as far apart as is humanly possible.
If low bass sounds do share frequency content, as they appear to in many genres, then you must make sure they never really occur at the same point in time. This temporal placement is a big reason why heavy kick-to-bass sidechain compression became so widespread and trendy a few years ago: that cliched trick allows for both a weighty bass drum
and heavy bassline to coexist in tandem. That trend has subsided somewhat, thankfully, but more covert sidechain compression or volume ducking can still pocket space for a kick to punch through.
IN IT FOR KICKS
While we’re talking about temporal space in the low end, we should discuss the bass drum in a bit more detail. Genres such as house place more low-frequency emphasis on the kick, with the accompanying bassline riding above in the ‘upper bass’ frequency range. Conversely, ‘bassline’ styles such as drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep feature knockier, punchier kick drums that allow the bassline to take the more prominent low-end role. This kind of juggling act is the best way to let those bass elements live together.
As a general rule, the best approach is to simply choose the correct kick drum sound to complement the right bass sound. A punchy kick is quite obviously going to clash with a knocky, kick-like bass sample, but the same kick sound will probably sit nicely over a smoother, sustained sub bass synth.
Frustratingly, many modern pop, hip-hop, trap and electronic productions seem to pack in mega-phat kick drums and sub bass. This is more difficult to dial in, but can still be done – you just have to choose your battles. One important factor is the duration of bass over time. Many kick samples feature long, subby tails, which obviously clash with sub bass; so by shortening your kick, you’ll reduce its temporal impact, making it easier to gently, invisibly duck the sub bass for that duration, or pack in volume-faded bass notes where it’s needed.
To boost your kick’s perceived impact while actually reducing its physical footprint in the mix, use saturation and transient shaping to make it punch harder, then carve away its extreme sub with EQ to shift listener perception. And if you need to keep the kick’s meat after all, try displacing the bassline until later on, so notes occur just after the kick, but not so much as to disrupt the groove.