Tips for Managing Low End and Making Executive Mix Decisions

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com.

This tutorial is going to be about managing low end, but it’s also going to be about making executive decisions as a mix engineer.

So let’s check out this chorus.

[mix plays]

So, really cool, but if you’re listening the way I’m listening, you will notice a couple of things that maybe could be better. The first is that the low end is a little bit cloudy and muddy.

Not terribly cloudy and muddy, but a little bit, particularly in the sub range. It’s hard to sort of differentiate between all of the elements going on there, and it kind of all sounds like one kind of globby low end.

The other thing that’s going on is that it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of movement in the low end in particular. Like, there is movement there, but it really feels like there could be more. It’s more-or-less streamlined.

So let’s breakdown how we can remedy that. So, first I’m going to play with the effects that I added, and then I’m going to explain my thought process.

[mix plays]

So, we’ll notice that when I play it that way, there’s a lot more bounce and groove to the record, but I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything. It just feels like the energy has been rearranged. It still feels very full and very powerful.

So here’s my thought process. I have four elements that are occupying a lot of space in the sub 80Hz range. I have these layered kicks, which I’m thinking of as one element, I have these 808s, and then I have a Moog Bass, and I have a hook low lead.

So I’m asking myself what I want the low end to do. If I want it to sound like this sort of like, heavy electronica, pseudo-rock kind of thing, like a Nine Inch Nails sort of thing, I probably want the low end of that Moog bass, that sort of streamlined, unending low end to be dominant.

But, that’s not what this record is. This record is meant for dancing purposes, and so I want a bounce to show up, and that bounce is going to come from my more dynamic elements — my kick and my 808.

So those are the elements that I want to give the sub to, because that’s what’s going to give that physical energy that gets people to move on the dance floor.

Well, in order to do that, what I really need to do is therefore take out sub range in my other elements. The Moog bass and the hook low lead.

So I’m going to bypass my effects here, and now I’m going to breakdown what I’m doing.

[synth]

So it’s important to note that this Moog bass has a lot of really gnarly, cool overtones in the upper-midrange. So I can probably remove a good amount of sub without even damaging the strength of this sound.

So my first move here is going to be an EQ.

[synth, adjusting EQ]

Right? I very clearly shifted the energy more toward the upper-midrange, and I’ll show you exactly what’s going on here. I even have a little graphic line to help illustrate it.

So at 80Hz, I’m dipping out about 3.5 decibels with a very wide slope. You’ll see the slope of this EQ stretches all the way up to this bump right here. This bump is 1.2kHz. That’s like a 4, 5 decibel boost that it’s getting right there.

So I’m diminishing energy in the low end, all the way up to the mid-range where now, the mid-range is getting that big power.

Before and after, one more time.

[synth, before and after EQ]

Okay. Next EQ.

[synth]

If you’re listening with a sub, you will hear a very dramatic difference. If you are not listening with a sub, you might not notice the most profound difference.

One more time.

[synth]

So here at about 70Hz, steep high-pass filter. Just cutting everything out of the sub, and a little bump at 200Hz.

So again, shifting energy. The 200Hz energy is going to give the impression of bass without actually putting low end in there. It’s going to be the kind of bass, that primary bass range that pokes through all of these other bass elements, because it’s resting a little bit above those primary fundamentals.

[synth]

So again, it doesn’t feel like I’m losing bass, it just feels like I’m moving it up in register.

A little compression here with some make-up gain.

[synth with compression]

Right? We feel that texturally, it becomes solid. The last thing that I’m doing is throwing on a compressor that is keyed to the kick, so that this bass ducks out when the kick hits.

Here on this hook lead, I’m doing some EQ that is just tonally making it feel a little bit more focused. This is not a specific technique that you are going to be able to apply everywhere, this is just me going through the sound and doing what I like. It’s a pretty subtle sound, I’m going to turn it up for now.

[hook lead plays]

And then my next idea is this sound — there’s already an 808, a kick, and a Moog bass in the center. Maybe I can get this sound to the sides?

So Stereo Widener.

[hook lead with widener]

And then some Mid/Side EQ, where in the mid channel, I’m taking out six decibels of low end with a pretty wide slope, and then I’m boosting up 200Hz — that same sort of primary range on the side channels only — and doing a little bit of attenuation to the sub range on the side channels.

So here’s before and after.

[hook lead, before and after]

Now, you’re going to say to yourself, “Well, this doesn’t sound like it’s going to fold to mono very well at all,” and I would say, “You’re absolutely right,” but it’s not important that it needs to, because when it folds to mono, what’s important is the Moog bass, the 808, and the kick. This is just an augmenting sound, and the way I’m conceptualizing it is this low lead is really just meant to make the Moog bass sound wider.

[Moog]

That’s all it really needs to do. The integrity of the sound is not important — the way it augments the important elements is what’s important. Then of course it’s getting the same side-chain compressor on it as well, keyed to the kick. Let me put it back to where it was.

Right, so when I bypass — when I mute that low lead…

[Moog]

And then bring it back in…

[Moog and lead]

It just makes it feel like the Moog bass is wider. You almost don’t hear it as a separate element, and that’s fine. That’s exactly what it needs to be doing.

So now, one more time before and after.

[mix, before and after]

Much groovier, much clearer, punch is better, definitely an improvement all around, and yet, some pretty extreme processing. Taking a lot of bass out of a bass.

Sometimes that’s what you need to do. Anyway, the song is called “Roses.” It’s by The Symphony. It’s probably out by the time you’re seeing this. Link will be in the YouTube box. So check it out!

Alright guys, until next time.

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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