The Low Down On The Low End - Part TwoJanuary 18, 2012
(This is part two of a two part series. If you haven't yet read part one of “The Low Down On The Low End” you may want to check out part one first before continuing.)
In part one we talked about where the low end is on a frequency spectrum as well as some tools that you can use to see your low end frequencies a little more clearly. One of the tools mentioned in part one was Voxengo's SPAN which is available in VST and AudioUnit for Window as well as Macs. However I don't want to leave out our readers that use Reason as their DAW. So I did a little searching and found a spectrum analyzer for Reason. It is called Brandon's Reason 5 Spectrum Analyzer. I have not used this myself, but there is a ton of information about it at his site, so if you use Reason it might be worth it to check it out for yourself at http://mrbrandonpeoples.blogspot.com/2011/05/reason-5-spectrum-analyzer.html
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.
Now I know that this may seem counter productive in your goal which is to obtain more bass right? Well let me explain. It is not enough to have low end in your track, but the right amount of low-frequencies coming from the right instruments should be your goal. Let's take a closer look at what instruments can live in the low end neighborhood below 300 Hz.
Percussion: kicks, snares, toms, congas and even some hats.
Brass: Tubas, french horns, trombones and trumpets
Woodwinds: bassoons, saxophones, clarinets and even some clarinets.
Strings: bass, cellos, harps, guitars, violas and violins.
Vocals: some male vocals.
With so many possibilities down there it is easy to see that frequency conflicts can become an issue rather quickly depending upon what instruments are in your song. So as we can see it is much more than the kick and the bass sounds that we need to be concerned with.
SUB BASS AND BASS
We learned that anything below 300 Hz would be considered the low end in part one, but there is actually two different parts to the low-frequency range that we need to take into consideration.
Bass: would be from 300 Hz to 60 Hz
Sub Bass: would be from 60 Hz to 20 Hz
Now in a typical hip hop track it relies on the kick to drive it. Your bass and sub bass sounds play a role that is just about as important depending upon the style of hip hop you are working with. In a dirty south track for example I would argue that it may even be of equal importance if not more. So in this case it is really important that your kick work with your bass sounds.
Now I don't like giving out specific number because folks tend to just use those numbers as gospel without really learning how the sounds interact with each other. These should be used as a guide only to help you in dealing with your kicks and basses.
Kick frequencies below 100 Hz are dealing with the bottom of the kick. I find that the thump of most kicks live in the 90 to 100 Hz area. Your bass drum and bass sounds will live between 90 Hz down to 20 Hz. So having said that if you have a kick drum that is hitting below 90 Hz it may be wise to make some adjustment for you bass sounds or use a different kick that is more suited to the bass sounds you are using.
The bass sounds and sub bass sounds are close cousins but still need space of their own. Typically I am cutting bass around 50 Hz so that my sub bass (if the track has it) has it's own space between 50 and 20 Hz. Now keep in mind again these are very basic numbers and do not apply to every single situation, but can be used as more of a guide. Also keep in mind that most of the sub bass energy is felt and not heard so an analyzer of some sort is always good to use down there.
COMPRESSION CAN KILL
When I first got out of school I had a t-shirt that read “Compression Kills!” I wish I still had that old thing, but I digress. The truth of the matter is this statement rings just as true today as it did back then.
Compression can be like a musical drug that gets many producers hooked. Next thing you know you are reaching for a compressor for everything. That kick is not loud enough. Compression. That vocal is too loud. Compression. Snare not hitting? Compression. Trust me compression is not the answer to everything, as matter of fact I wouldn't recommend it for dealing with the low end frequencies. Now wait before you start fitting me for a straight jack hear me out. Compression does have it's place (the low-frequencies included), but using sidechain compression is often a much better choice when dealing with the low end.
Sidechaining is a great way to control your low end by helping you carve out space for your kicks and basses to work together.
What is sidechaining? - Basically it takes one sound and uses it to manipulate another sound.
Mixing kicks and bass sounds can be real tricky most of the time. One method I like to use is to sidechain both the bass and kick with a compressor. Then I EQ the bass to get the bass and kick to sound good together. Getting into the specifics of how to sidechain is beyond this tutorial, but it maybe something we can do as a tutorial in the future.
So you can use sidechaining to preserve your low end without just flat out compressing signals down there. Also, don't be nervous that sidechaining is some sort of advance technique because it really isn't. Check out some videos, books and tutorials on sidechaining and before you know it you will be a sidechain expert. So try it on the low end of your next track and see for yourself.
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.