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.


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.

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