Pro Audio Files

Mixing Bass with Distortion and Keeping Emotions in Mind

Transcript
Hey guys, Matthew Weiss. A couple of quick things to promote real quick. Theproaudiofiles.com, that’s where you can find a lot of my written content. It’s a great site, great resource. Mixthru.co. That’s where I have for sale tutorials. There are walkthroughs there that are really great for just getting your hands on some pragmatic examples and going through the steps. And of course, I’ve got to give a shoutout to producelikeapro.com. That’s where the multi-tracks for this tutorial came from. You can go over to that website, download them for free, a lot of great content over there as well.

Okay, so let’s get into it. This is going to be both a technique and concept tutorial here, and it’s going to be about sort of marrying the ideas between mixing for feel and emotion, and mixing for technical balances, and I’ve hinted at this before, but in my opinion, mixing, which is fundamentally a technical pursuit, is really actually about getting the recording, and the production, to the end listeners ears in the best way possible toward the artistic intention of the song.

Meaning, when we’re mixing, we’re trying to grab onto the emotion of the song, and translate that, so that it does something to the end listener. It compels them in some way, shape, or form. It’s really hard to conceptualize that sometimes, so I’m going to give you an example of that, in action, with pragmatic techniques involved.

Alright. Let’s listen to this little section here.

[mix]

So, overall, this is sounding pretty good. This is about where I want it. But if I would say there’s one thing that needs to be improved, it’s that the bass could be a little bit richer. There could be a little bit more going on.

The question is, in what way? Because there’s a number of ways that we can bring the bass out. Right? We can bring the bass out where we start playing up the upper-mid tones, which is going to give it sort of a dancey bounce feel, or we could start playing up the lower-mid tones, which is going to give it a more bodied feel. So the question is, what’s right?

You know, out of context, there is no right. So we have to figure out as engineers what’s going to do it. So this first example I think is going to be fairly obvious, but I’m going to show you how things might differ at other points in the song. Alright, let’s check this out.

So here, I have my bass amp and my bass DI, and below this, I have two clones of the bass amp channel. So these are exactly the same, but I’m processing them a little bit different.

Here’s our bass amp.

[bass amp]

And here’s my first parallel channel.

[bass, parallel channel]

Here’s my second parallel channel.

[bass, parallel channel 2]

So right off the bat, when we hear it in solo with no context or anything like that, the first parallel channel sounds much more exciting, because what I’m doing here is I basically cut all the lows out, cut all the highs out, and just focused in that upper-mid texture. That growly, grisly texture. Then I’m running it through some distortion here. This is just a stock Digi Distortion. Some compression, some limiting. Basically, I’m mangling the signal, and I’m getting this tone.

[bass amp, filtered and distorted]

So, if I have my bass here…

[bass amp]

And I bring in my first parallel channel, I get this…

[bass amp with parallel channel 1]

Wakes the bass right up, brings it to life, sounds really cool. It’s got some really punk-ish kind of overtones going on. I like it a lot.

If I bring in my other one, which is basically the same thing, except for instead of focusing on the upper-mids, I’m focusing on the lower-mids here, and my band is between 160 and like, 700. It sounds like this.

[bass amp with parallel channel 2]

It sounds a lot fuller, but maybe it doesn’t sound quite as exciting.

So let’s listen to it in context now. First, I’m going to bring in the exciting upper one, then I’m going to bring in the fuller, lower one.

[mix]

Okay, upper.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 1]

Cool. Lower.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 2]

So now the question is, what’s better? Well, let’s listen one more time, and let’s pull apart not only what they’re doing in terms of sonics, but also what they’re doing in terms of the emotion of the record.

Alright, upper one.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 1]

Lower.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 2]

So the upper one is making the bass more present inside the mix. It’s also adding a lot more upper-mid energy, which is contributing a lot to the bounce. There’s a lot of that attack tone, there’s a lot of that — just by having more energy there, brings the ear more naturally to that range, and there’s just a lot more bouncy tones there. We’re hearing a lot more attack tones, we’re hearing a lot more of the percussive elements, simply because our ear is being led there.

So it makes it feel dancier. It also imparts that sort of Punk Rock kind of feel to it a little bit. I mean, it’s still clearly a Pop record, but it almost moves it into a Pop Punkish territory a little.

So, the lower one does something very different. The lower one, it’s a sweeter tone, right? It doesn’t have all of those grisly upper tones. It makes it feel fuller and it makes it feel rounder.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 2]

And because it’s focused on those sweeter tones, to me, it makes the section actually sound a little bit more romantic, as weird as that is to say, but that’s how I would put an adjective to it. One sounds bouncy and dance-y…

[mix, bass with parallel channel 1]

The other sounds sweeter, fuller, and romantic.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 2]

So, in terms of the emotion of it, I actually prefer the sweeter one, and my reasoning is this.

When I listen to it in context, with all of those little sparkly synths going on up there, and with the actual words, which are, “You must be from another world, your whisper makes my stomach curl,” it’s an ode to that magical feeling that teenagers get when they get a crush. You know what I mean? So that’s — to me, it’s more appropriate to have the more romantic sounding tone in this section.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 2]

Now, conveniently, I think this is an easy choice, because also in terms of sonics, when we bring in the lower-mid focused bass, it fills out the record. It makes the whole record sound fuller.

[mix, bass with parallel channel 1]

[mix, bass with parallel channel 2]

So, this time, I think it’s pretty easy to determine what we want. Now, let’s move over to a different section. Here’s the chorus.

[mix, chorus]

That was with the lower-mid, here’s with the upper mid.

[mix, chorus, bass with parallel channel 1]

To me, the context of the record has changed. Now, there’s a — it’s more about the dance, and it’s more about the groove.

So, I think that while our lower-mid centered bass works much better in the verse, once we get to the chorus, I’m not as convinced.

[mix, chorus, bass with parallel channel 1, then 2]

I feel like, because there’s more elements in there, because technically, sonically, we can get our low-mid weight from other places, it’s not as important to have that fullness there, and I think because of the emotional context of the record, the danciness of it is actually more important to have present, so the way that I would do this, as an engineer, is I would take the sections where we’re in the verse, and use this low parallel channel and bring that in, and then when it’s in the chorus, I’ll bring in the higher parallel channel.

[mix, parallel channels automated]

Yeah, let’s listen to the transition one more time.

[mix, parallel channels automated]

I really like that.

So, the point of all of this, just to reiterate, is that we’re considering things on multiple levels when we’re mixing. We’re thinking about the sonic qualities. Okay, does this balance the record better by having more low mids, or does it balance the record better by having more high mids? But we’re also thinking about the emotional context. What is this section trying to convey? Is it trying to be dance-y and bouncy, or is it trying to be sweet and romantic? What’s happening in the record and what should the listener feel? Because ultimately, that’s going to guide us to make the best decisions, when the decisions are maybe not so clear on a sonic level.

Alright guys, I hope that you learned something. Until next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.


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