The Low Down On The Low End - Part OneJanuary 11, 2012
THIS IS THE FIRST PART OF THE LOW DOWN ON THE LOW END - TIPS ON MIXING THE LOW END / BASS
How to handle the lower frequencies of a track while mixing is tough for most of us out there, but with a little knowledge and practice, mixing the low end can become something we look forward to instead of approach with fear. In this week's tip let's talk low end!
The first and best tip for a great sounding low end is to use great sounds. Using great drums and basses will always net you a better sounding low end then using inferior sounds in your mix. I can not stress this enough. Starting with better sounds to begin with will lead to less problems down the road.
WHERE IS THE LOW END?
So when we talk about low end on a track we are generally talking about the sub bass and bass frequency ranges. The sub bass frequency range being between 20Hz to 60Hz and the bass frequency range being about 60Hz to around 250Hz to 300Hz. Now different charts will list the bass and sub bass ranges slightly different, but don't get yourself hung up on specific numbers. The frequencies below 300 Hz are widely considered to be the low end.
SEE WHAT YOU CAN NOT HEAR
In order to mix the low end properly you have to hear the low end properly. Sadly most producers do not hear sounds below 40Hz in their home studios. This is usually because their monitors or the rooms themselves are not allowing them to hear frequencies that are that low. So how do you mix what you can't hear? Well then you will have to mix what you can see instead. It is always best to mix in a well treated room with a good set of monitors to properly hear the low end frequencies, but if you can't for whatever reason; your in a dorm room, apartment, etc., the next best thing is the use of a spectrum analyzer. Use of a spectrum analyzer is a great way to see your song's low end frequencies even if you can't hear them. I have two personal favorites. One is Blue Cat's FreqAnalyst and the other is Voxengo's SPAN. Both are available for free. I like Voxengo's SPAN a little more because of its great routing abilities.
USING SPAN TO GET YOUR KICK AND BASS TO PLAY NICE
When dealing with a troubling low end some folks reach for their trusty EQ and apply a high pass and call it good. This is not a precise way to deal with low end problems and depending upon the equalizer can color the sound which you may not want. A better way to deal with the problem would be to use a analyzer and sculpt your low end to taste. As I mentioned I like to use Voxengo's SPAN. This is a great tool to use even if you have a good room and great monitors. It is easy to set up and will give you a great way to analyze your low end and really see what is going on down there. This will help you get rid of DC offsets and other ugly things that may be lurking below.
SET UP SPAN
First you will want to place SPAN on a new audio channel of it's own within your project. Mostly all DAW's these days will allow you to set up how you would like to route your channels. You want to route both your kick and your bass channels through your newly created SPAN channel instead of out to your master channel. It doesn't matter how many different channels you have as long as all of your low end instruments are going through the SPAN channel so that you can analyze them. The specifics to setting up Voxengo's SPAN is beyond this tutorial. There is however a great users manual available on their website here. (http://www.voxengo.com/product/span/ )
Now start with your bass by soloing it. Take a look at SPAN and make note of where the bass frequency is sitting. If you see undesirable energy down there then grab a good transparent EQ and apply a high pass filter to the signal. Your goal is to clean up the low end without changing the sound of the bass itself if at all possible. Next you will do the same thing with your kick sound. Once you have cleaned up the bass and kick separately and if you did your routing properly you will be able to see your kick and your bass on the spectrum analyzer at the same time. Listen to both sounds through SPAN and make corrections where needed so that the kick and the bass are not fighting for space.
KNOW YOUR SYSTEM
A major key to a better mix of the low end is to know the limitations of your own system. If your monitors do not give you a true representation of your low end then you need to take into consideration those limitations while mixing. Knowing your room and monitors well is one of the best ways of getting to a great mix faster.
PUT YOUR BASS ON A DIET
Another method to use for a great sounding low end is to thin out your bass. By cutting bass from your bass it will get rid of some mud and unnecessary low-frequencies and help to really define your low end. Also, it will help your bass and kick sounds to work together and not sound like they are fighting. This takes a little practice with tools that you trust so that you are not cutting away too much and getting rid of that low end boom that you liked in your track in the first place.
Stay tuned for more weekly tips and tutorials every Wednesday.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.