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Mixing Kick & Bass

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Hello everybody, hope you’re doing marvelously well.

We have another episode of FAQ Friday. That’s Frequently Asked Questions.

As ever, please subscribe, hit that notification bell, and you will be notified when there is a new video up.

Okay, so. We’ve got some great questions this week. I particularly like this first one.

I’m a bit confused on what L2s and L1s actually are. Are they leveling compressors? I’m always hesitant to use them because I don’t quite understand them.

That’s a really, really good question. Now, obviously, the L1 and L2 are specific to Waves. It’s a Waves plugin. And you’re probably asking because you see me, and I believe on the video you were mentioning, it was Ariel Chobez and Bob Horn, and both of them were using L1s and L2s.

Oh, Bob Marlette and Ulrich Wild. And Cameron Webb. All of those guys — there’s a lot of guys that use those limiters, and you know. We’re going to have a whole discussion on what you prefer for a limiter, but ultimately, a limiter is quite literal. A compressor, for instance, compresses the signal. Okay? It reduces the dynamic range. A limiter limits it.

Now, that sounds like exactly the same thing. It basically is, because a compressor can be a limiter. Go figure.

A compressor becomes a limiter when the ratio is of a certain number. I hear some people say it’s ten-to-one, other people say it’s twenty-to-one. To me, it’s twenty-to-one. What does that mean? That means that the signal — say this is a threshold there — has to go 10 or 20dB over that signal to let 1dB through.

In plain English, basically, here’s the threshold set. The signal will keep getting louder and louder and louder, and eventually when it’s 10 or 20dB louder than that threshold, 1dB will get sent through.

So when it’s a two-to-one ratio, it’s like, two dB lets one dB over, 3dB lets one dB over. You get the basics of it. So a limiter is an aggressive compressor. That’s an oversimplification, but it means that it’s very, very aggressive. It is going to stop the signal peaking almost entirely.

I mean, a 20dB range is pretty heavy. However, there may be situations in your song which have massive dynamics, but typically, ten, or particularly twenty-to-one is quite an aggressive signal.

So why would you use them? And I think this is the biggest conversation. Why would you use them? You would use a limiter when you really, really want to control the dynamic range. Master buss. Where you want to put it at the end of your master buss, just for that one or two transients that just got through, and you just want to tuck them in.

Quite often, we get what mastering engineers call “Fishtails,” and fishtails are like these transients like this. Usually from kicks and snares. You know, if you take your drum buss, and you’ve got overly aggressive looking transients, really dynamic looking transients, you’re going to want to put a limiter at the end, just to control them. If you maybe take 2dB down of just those transients themselves, you won’t affect the overall drum mix that much, but you’ll affect the ridiculous peaking. The ridiculous transient peaking of the kick and the snare.

So limiters are probably something that you’ll put on busses, like guitar auxiliaries or guitar busses, where there might be areas where two or three extra guitars come in on the guitar buss, and suddenly, that dynamic range just gets too massive. Maybe you want to put 2dBs of limiting on that, and that 2dB just keeps them nicely inside of your mix.

I use them to tame things. To tame dynamic ranges, and an L2 is something I personally use a lot.

Now, there are other limiters out there, and I’m sure — and please do — give us examples of the limiters that you use. But that is what a limiter will do.

It’s not the first thing you should reach for. You should reach for a compressor to control the dynamic range, and then a limiter to limit the dynamic range far more aggressively.

With regards to virtual drummers in DAWs, should you still go through and EQ drums?

That’s a marvelous question. Live drums and programmed drums have completely different issues.

It’s very easy to take an Addictive Drum beat, or an EZ drum beat, or a Trigger beat, and apply EQ and compression to it, because frankly, as a man that’s already created a lot of drum samples myself for those kind of programs, they’re very, very well recorded single hits, with the drummer hitting exactly the same place every single time. So when you come back and you play back that drum kit that you’ve programmed, it’s like, [mimics drums] super even, hitting the toms perfectly, the cymbals like this, all of the dynamics are perfectly programmed in.

Wonderful. But that’s not a live drum kit. It doesn’t matter how good your drummer is, when they’re playing live in a room, there’s many, many variables. Not just dynamics, obviously, there’s positioning of the stick. You’ll get a completely different sound from the stick hitting the center of the snare, to slightly to the side, to hitting the rim square on and the middle at the same time, or just hitting the rim, or a combination of all of those things.

No matter how amazing your drummer is, there’s going to be 57 different ways to Sunday of different kind of performance things, so when you go to EQ and compress, you can’t just go, “Oh, I’m going to EQ this and cut that,” you’re going to have to get a little bit more creative.

So yes, the tricks you learn in the videos where they’re just talking about using programmed drums, that’s just the beginning. When it comes to live drums, that’s a big reason why live drums, parallel compression is a really, really good tool, because if you’ve got a snare drum for instance that’s a little haphazard, he’s moving around, he or she’s like, kind of moving around on the snare, they’re sometimes hitting the rim, sometimes not half hitting it, that parallel compressed snare drum track can keep the energy in there, and even when they’re not hitting it hard enough, it feels like they’ve got that extra energy.

That’s why there’s all of those additional tricks. Just copying EQ and compression moves that are done on virtual drums is scratching the surface. Live drums need a lot more attention.

However, when done well, they can sound absolutely phenomenal, and of course, so much more interesting than just using triggered drums.

Triggered drums have their place. They’re amazing for demos, and they are amazing in many situations. A lot of metal tracks, love it or hate them, use programmed drums, because if it’s a guitar player, they’re sitting there programming the kick patterns the way they want them to be to fit their right hand rhythms that they’re playing.

So when you’re working on your own or there’s just a couple of you, programming drums is a wonderful situation, so I’m not writing it off, but I think it’s just scratching the surface to think about the EQ and compression that you have to do on programmed drums, moving to live drums, very very different situation.

Does the tone of the bass and kick have any relation to where you’ll high pass, or low pass, or cut, or is it just basically the same area no matter what?

That really is very, very important. I think typically — typically, the 60, 65, 70 is something I’ve seen boosted on kick drums with almost every mixer I’ve ever worked with. Now, Chris Lord-Alge has a pair of master buss Pultecs sitting behind him, and they are set with the 70 boost, and that’s where he’s boosting the low end. That’s where he’s catching the low end on his kick.

Now, obviously, you think 60 and 70Hz is fairly close, and I think the advantage may be of him doing the 70 is he still gets that low end punchiness, that low end, that bottom end, however, the higher you go, even by 10Hz means that you can clean up some low information below.

Those of you that understand the way that frequencies work, if you’re talking about low frequency information, it’s a big chunk of the whole spectrum. It’s a lot of the energy.

If you put a kick drum in there, like on my mix here that I’ve just been working on, the kick drum is doing this, and the tambourine is kind of doing this, but you can hear the tambourine has a high frequency just cutting through. It prints a tiny piece of information. A kick is a massive piece of information.

So low end takes a lot of energy, takes a lot of your mix. So just shelving your kick at a different point, maybe a little higher, is a good idea in some situations, because you’re going to create more energy for the mix. The mix will appear louder if there’s not a lot of super lows in there. Super low end information isn’t going to sound as loud as really loud high-mid information, which is like, blaringly aggressive.

So to answer your question in a very long winded way, yes. You probably, depending on your genre, want to be looking at specifically where that kick is. For instance, we talked about in our live chat just a couple of days ago how with production in Hip Hop in particular, the beats are the song, so you do not get a beat from a producer in Hip Hop, and then put samples in there. You don’t change the kicks and the snares and the hand claps and everything they’ve put in there, and the samples that they’ve created. That is the song. That is the production of the song.

You can EQ it and compress it a little bit, and inherently make more of it, but the last thing you’re going to do is take that 808 out and put like, one of my samples, one of my drum samples in there that sounds like it came from Nirvana or something. It’s not going to work. That’s not what it’s about.

So to answer your question very specifically, find where that kick is resonating. Where it really lives. If you want to exaggerate it, the fundamental, if that happens to be at 40, then boost 40. If it happens to be at 70, boost 70. If it happens to be at 110, boost 110 if you want that fundamental low end to cut through,

So to answer your question really super long like I’ve been doing, yes. Every single instrument can be slightly tweaked to fit the mix, depending on how they were recorded, what frequency they are, that’s the way you should be thinking. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.

However, as we talked about, in the late 90’s through kind of like the early- to mid-2000’s, you did buy those albums, especially rock albums, and the kick and snare sound was the same on every song. You know, that was — they all sounded good, but that was the world we were living in.

I think, and I hope that we’ve moved past that now, and there’s a lot more freedom and a lot more individuality and a lot more creativity. I think now that there’s so many of you making music, you can really get in there and give yourself — you know, create your own individual, unique sounds.

So anyway, long answer to a short question, but it was a great question. Thank you for asking it.

What to do if the odd bass note is too loud or too quiet?

Well that’s where, for me, multiband comes in first of all. When you go higher on a bass, especially on the G or the D string up here, you’re going to lose low end. So the reason why I like using R-Bass for instance and a multiband compressor is I can boost the low end on the R-Bass, and then I can use a multiband to control it afterwards.

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So what happens is that bass is there all the time, that low end is being filled up, so even when you go high, you still hear that, “woooo,” even when it’s up here. It’s beautiful, it’s giving you a lot of low end. However, the multiband is squashing it quite aggressive.

So use your multiband when you’re playing, say, an open E, the multiband compressor’s squashing a lot more aggressively, then when you’re up high, it’s less aggressive.

That’s where multiband compression and dynamic EQs come in. It’s like you go low, more compression, you go high, less. So it allows it always to have a certain amount of low end coming through.

Now, however, if you do use an R-Bass, you use some of the multiband compressors, you use all of these different tools to get that low end to always be there on that bass guitar, you still might lose notes, and to be honest, if that happens, and you lose a note, it’s too quiet, particularly if it’s too quiet, volume automate it.

Volume automate it. Just get in there, and go, “This line that’s being played up here is just losing it in the track,” so just turn it up, and use your ears. Don’t use your eyes. Don’t look at the meter and go, “Well, it’s at zero dB, so I’m okay.”

It might be that the signal set reads zero, but in your track, the way the frequencies are, it just disappears. Or it disappears a certain amount. So don’t be afraid. Use your ears. Don’t use your eyes, and turn it up where it seems to quiet.

And if it does happen to be one note that does the opposite, maybe it happens to reinforce a low note in the guitar, so suddenly, there’s too much low end.

Turn it down or go and fix the low in the guitar. Either way, volume automation can be your friend. It can solve a lot of these issues that we’re talking about. A lot of them.

I’ve learned that the hard way. I remember being — Steven Tyler once said to me, “If it’s worth hearing, it’s worth hearing loud.” I liked that.

So when’s that video coming out with your favorite uses for the Waves MV2?

Be careful what you wish for. There’s a lot of favorite uses, and that may well be coming very soon.

You mentioned that the Black Album kick sample is in the Produce Like a Pro drum samples from your website. Which one is it? PR Kick? I Wanna Kick?

Okay, so hmm… That is allegedly the Black Album drum kick. That kick drum has been around, circulated through various mixers for many, many years now. I can’t remember — I think I got it from Dave Jerden, or I got it from Bryan Carlstrom. Both of them have used it, and the PR kick they have used on Alice in Chains, and Jane’s Addiction, and all kinds of stuff.

It is allegedly the Black Album kick. I don’t know. Only Bob Rock could really tell us that. PR kick is supposed to be one of those things that Andy Wallace uses, but you know what, I don’t know that for a fact. Those are folklore. All I can tell you is the PR kick has that [imitates kick]. It’s a wonderful kick to use to get the attack, and the I Wanna kick is absolutely massive. It’s got so much girth, for want of a better word. It’s phenomenal, so yes.

Go to producelikapro.com, sign up for the email list, and download those drum samples. I’m sure there’s a link flying around up here, or down there. Matty D is going to put it first there, so check it out. Please download the stuff, it’s truly wonderful.

I begged, borrowed, and stole them. I’ve got some Aerosmith stuff that I made from the warehouse, there’s all kinds of fun things. Enjoy. Oh, there’s a Jet sample I used from when I recorded Jet at my old studio, there’s some Fray stuff in there from their old albums, there’s — D24 is a really good snare sound, I highly recommend that, check that one out. There’s a lot of really good things in there.

What is the most out of your comfort zone project you’ve ever recorded or mixed? Death Metal? Avant Garde? Noise? Techno? Jazz? Classical? How did you approach it, and what did it teach you?

What an amazing question! I love it. There was a band — what were they called? I wish Robin Holden was watching this. Robin, are you watching this? Robin was my old engineer. We worked with a band at my old studio, and it was three Latino guys from Los Angeles, and they came in bass, drums, and guitar, and it was some of the craziest, most Avant Garde — now you’re thinking bass, drums, and guitar, what’s unusual about that?

I’ll tell you what’s unusual about that. They played live together, they sang — the singer sang live, and there was no click track. Sometimes, what we had to do is we gave them a click track, and he would just — the drummer would go off it, they’d do these whole different things in different time — in completely different time signatures in different tempos, then come back to the click track and finish the song, and Robin and I would look at each other like, “What was that?”

It taught me a lot. It taught me just to forget all preconceived ideas about tempos, and if a band is tight and they play together, and they can do three-and-a-half beat bars, if they can do 7/4 bars, 2, 4, 1, whatever it might be, all random things with different key signatures and different timings, and they can play together, we’re talking three young Latino guys, if they can do that and they can nail it, god bless it. Forget all of the preconceived ideas about what music is supposed to be like.

I’ve never worked with another band like it. It wasn’t jazz. It wasn’t even really prog, it was just weird indie music, and Robin, if you’re watching this, let’s try and remember it and dig it up. I’d love the Academy members in particular to hear it. This was the craziest stuff ever, but they played super tight.

Drummer would say to me, “Song is at 102.” I’d start off at 102, he’d start playing, and then just go all over the place, and then come back and finish the song, and I’d just be like, “What just happened?”

But it was tight. It was phenomenal.

So I was out of my comfort zone, I was about to stop them in the middle of the track, and then I realized, these guys are playing tight together. If they want this click, I’ll give them this click. If they’re going to play in a different tempo and time signature, so be it.

I was talking to Mike Piersante. You saw that one a few weeks ago. He and I talked about the fact that every single time we’re surrounded by world class musicians, we are crapping ourselves. Especially jazz players. Especially classical players.

And I’m not just talking about somebody who knows how to play a couple of jazz lines. When you’re in a room and you’ve got Tom Scott doing a horn section on an Aerosmith song like I did, it’s fricking terrifying to be the engineer, and be the guy that mics everything up, and gets all of the tones, and make sure that you’re ready to go like that, so when he puts the charts out like this and goes, “Okay, so one, to, a one, two, a one, two, three, four,” that you’re in record, nothing is overloading, the headphone mixes are going.

It’s terrifying. You’re there, you go, “Wait, didn’t this guy play with Steely Dan? Didn’t this guy play horns in some of the greatest records of all time? Didn’t he do a Rolling Stones record?” And thinking all of these things, and you’re just crapping yourself.

So I feel like, between that and other jazz and classical gigs, I’ve recorded orchestras, I’ve recorded quartets — every single time I do that, I’m absolutely terrified. And I talked to Mike Piersante about it, and he’s recorded many of those kind of artists, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, every time. Every time I’ve got Alison Krauss in a room and she’s recording with her band, I am absolutely terrified.”

If you’re not, and you’re not on your game, it’s that quote, and I used it recently, and somebody — Jackie Stuart said — he won his third world championship, and he retired a couple of races before the end of the season after he won it, and they said, “Why did you stop racing?” And he said, “One day, I got in my car, and I wasn’t scared anymore.”

What that meant to him was like, he lost that fear, and he’s like, “Well wait there, am I going to die in a car crash?” It’s like one of those things when you lose that edge, being a little terrified and a little overwhelmed is okay. If you feel a little terrified and a little overwhelmed in a situation, that’s okay.

For me, it makes me ultra vigilant. When I’m a little terrified, I’m checking my notes, I’m making sure everything is right, I’m like, “Did I do that right? Is that plugged in properly?”

I like it. Do I want to be lying on a beach every day sipping iced tea? Sure, but I’d go nuts after about two hours. I like the chase. I like being a little terrified. I like all of those things.

You know, I’m drawn to it, so if you’re feeling those things, all power to you. Don’t worry about it, it’s all part of what we do, and when you finish up that session, and the sigh of relief comes over you, and you play it back, and you’ve just recorded Tom Scott or whoever it might be, whatever, some incredible musicians, and it sounds great, there’s no better feeling in the whole world.

Are you completely self taught, or did you go to any recording university?

Hmm, self taught is a much abused term. It’s a little bit like genius, you know. Everybody that’s successful is a genius, and everybody that didn’t go to a traditional school is self taught.

Now, I am no more self taught than anybody watching. What does that mean? It’s like no, I never went to audio school, I never interned at a recording studio, I never assisted a recording studio. So in the real world, you would say, “Well, you’re totally self taught.”

Well, no, I’m not self taught because I didn’t grow up, you know, with a four-track cassette player, on my own in my room, and no knowledge whatsoever. Even from the earliest days of using any kind of recording, I had friends that did music, so I would go and practice things with them. So I would make mistakes while recording them, and we would integrate. Two or three of us would dig it together and try to figure out what the problem is.

So I’m self taught insomuch as I’ve never been to a traditional recording school, or a university, and I didn’t have the studio system, but I would be naive to say people like Jack Douglass, who was a mentor of mine, or Dave Jerden, who’s a great mentor of mine, or Don Smith, God rest his soul, was a great mentor of mine, and of course, my old friend, Ollie, the guitar player that taught me — just showed me so much incredible stuff on guitar.

These are mentors to me. I was able to watch over their shoulder, I was able to ask dumb questions, you know, and that’s why we have Produce Like a Pro. If you watch the videos, you get me, you get Ulrich Wild, you get Brad Wood, you get Bob Marlette, you get you name it. You get Cameron Webb, you get all of these incredible guys, giving you information, helping out.

To me, it’s like, that is what this is about, so being self taught, yes, by definition, I was self taught, but I have no ego about this. I stole and borrowed ideas, I read magazines, you know, videos weren’t around when I was a kid, like YouTube, but I begged, borrowed, and stole every single idea I could from everybody, whether it be reading the back of album covers to see where the studio was, and then going and looking in books with the studios, and see pictures of them, and see what equipment there was, whatever it might be before the advent of Google, I was getting more information.

Does that make me self taught? Technically yes, but I couldn’t do it in isolation. It wasn’t me and a cassette recorder making music. It was me, cassette recorder, and looking around and seeing all of this incredible information, hence, YouTube, hence Produce Like a Pro, thank you for being a great part of our community. I really, really love this.

As ever, please leave a bunch of comments and questions below, I really, really appreciate all of this stuff. Please give me all of the different uses for compressors and limiters, let’s keep on the conversation about low end, about recording drums, there’s so much wonderful things. I really, really appreciate having you here. Thank you for everything you do, and I’ll speak to you all again very, very soon. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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